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Open design and inovation


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Facilitating Creativity in Everyone

Leon Cruickshank

© Leon Cruickshank 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording
or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.
Published by
Gower Publishing Limited
Gower Publishing Company
Wey Court East
110 Cherry Street
Union Road Suite 3-1
Farnham Burlington
Surrey VT 05401-3818
Leon Cruickshank has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
The Library of Congress has catalogued the printed edition as follows:
Cruickshank, Leon.
Open design and innovation : facilitating creativity in everyone / by Leon Cruickshank.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4094-4854-9 (hardback : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-4094-4855-6 (ebook) - ISBN 978-1-4094-7475-3 (epub)
1. Creative ability. 2. Democratization. I. Title.
BF408.C764 2014


ISBN: 9781409448549 (hbk)

9781409448556 (ebk)

9781409474753 (ePub)


Printed in the United Kingdom by Henry Ling Limited,
at the Dorset Press, Dorchester, DT1 1HD

Openness in a Book


Part 1:
Open Design in Context
1 Introduction to Open Design


2 Innovation and Design
in Context


3 Mass Creativity: Design
Beyond the Design Profession


4 Design Responses to Mass


5 Open Design Futures


Part 2:
Open Design Case Studies
6 Introduction to Case Studies


Case Study 1: The .NET Gadgeteer:
Open Design Platform


Case Study 2: La Region 27 and the
Open Design of Public Services



Design Leadership

Case Study 3: Silver = Gold:
Professional Designers Working in
Open Creative Processes


Case Study 4: Educating Open



Case Study 5: PROUD: Beyond the
Castle: Open Designers in Action

Part 3:
The Future
7The Future for Open Designers



Openness in a Book

It is worth taking time here to address the issue of openness when writing a book on open
design. Openness as it is used throughout this book is a general description of processes
that include a high degree of porosity, exchange and collaboration in all areas of the
creative process. This grows from the belief that in many cases openness has practical and
philosophical advantages over closeness.
I am not the first author to want to make their book open. When Charles Leadbeater wrote
his book We–Think: Mass Innovation Not Mass Production: The Power of Mass Creativity
(Leadbeater, 2008), he made early drafts of his manuscript freely available online and invited
comments and contributions. It led to hundreds of downloads of the text and thousands of
individual edits on the wiki of the text to be found at www.charlesleadbeater.net/.
The excellent Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive (Abel, Evers, Klaassen
and Troxler, 2011) took another approach. The authors decided to launch the book in the
normal way but with a small amount of content freely available online. Over the next 18 months
gradually more and more of the book was available freely, until at the end of 2012 all of the book
can be accessed cost-free at http://opendesignnow.org.
Other less practical responses have included leaving a space in physical texts and encouraging
readers to add to or amend it. The first newspapers in the seventeenth century were sold to
the 400 or so coffee shops in London; these had blank sections for local announcements, and
papers were read aloud as few people could read.
In this book, none of these approaches has been used. While there is power in a multitude of
small but good contributions from across the complete spectrum of perspectives, experience
and agendas, there is also power in spending an hour or two with someone who has thought
deeply about the subject for a very long time and having a lively discussion. This is especially
effective when the people are at the leading edge of thinking on open design. This book could
not have been written without the generous contribution of Paul Atkinson, Rachel Cooper,
Antoinette Kripps, Helen Ryan, Marc Tassoul, Peter Troxler, Nicolas Villas, Stephan Vincent,
Ingrid van de Wecht and Lotte van Wulfften Palthe. A heartfelt thanks to these contributors.

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Reviews of
Open Design and Innovation
‘Open Design and Innovation by Leon Cruickshank is in many ways the most comprehensive,
courageous, and useful contribution to the discussion around open design so far – historically
founded, professionally reflective, giving substantial evidence in five case studies, and
including practical advice for “open designers”. With this monograph, Leon Cruickshank
successfully adds his voice and profound thinking to the discussion of open design, prevailing
over previous collective works such as my own Open Design Now and the excellent “Dutch
Open” issue of The Design Journal.’
Peter Troxler, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands
and senior editor of Open Design Now

‘Cruickshank provides us with unique and fascinating insights into the rapidly expanding
field of open design and innovation, describing its origins and underlying theories alongside
contemporary applications that do facilitate creativity in everyone.’
Rachel Cooper, University of Lancaster, UK

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Part 1:
Design in

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Chapter 1
Introduction to Open Design

This chapter introduces a new perspective on open design that places an
emphasis not on technology but rather on the underlying human motivations that
shape the way open design will develop in the coming years. It goes on to describe
the five key open design themes that are built on throughout this book. Finally it
lays out the structure of the book. This will take us from the foundations of open
design within innovation and design and vernacular activity, to a series of new case
studies, to a proposal for a new breed of ‘open designer’.

Open Design in Context
Design and the design profession have so many interpretations that it is impossible to talk
about them without qualification of the context. Frequently we talk about the design of a
product, the design of a place and the design of policy; we might be talking about the actions of
a professional designer, that is, someone who earns a living through doing design, but we might
also be talking about the creation and production of said product, place or policy, and this
involves many decision makers, who may or may not be design professionals.
So what do we mean by ‘open’ design? Open literally means ‘not fastened or sealed’, or
‘exposed to the air’, or ‘on view’. So when we consider open design we could say that design
has always been ‘open’ – everyone makes design every day through a hundred value judgments
and decisions; most people make design decisions about how they conduct their daily work,
but more specifically the way they dress, the décor of their homes and the style of their
In this sense we are looking specifically at ‘open design’ as a term representing a wide range
of approaches where the pre-eminence of the professional designer is not recognised in the
creative process. There are, for instance, products and services that are the result of skilled
design activity but have not included design professionals at all; for example, Lego has
developed global communities of everyday users who help develop its Mindstorms products.
There are also projects that are set up directly by design professionals where they are not ‘in
control’ or doing the designing, but rather are one of many equal collaborators in the creative
process, for example, in large urban development projects but also in co-design projects where
community buy-in is essential.


Part 1: Open Design in Context

Many commentators have credited open design’s growth to digital production and distribution;
however, it is a phenomenon that has a rich history that pre-dates digital technology. For example,
we see open design activity between business rivals in the emergence of both iron working and
steam engine development as far back as the 1800s. Iron foundry owners freely shared their
experiments in smelting iron both with competitors and potential new entrants. The result was
that, over the period of 20 years, ‘the height of the furnace increased from fifty feet – the previous
norm – to eighty feet or more, and the increase in the temperature of the blast from 600°F to
1400°F’ (Allen, 1983), offering dramatic increases in efficiency to the industry as a whole.
In a more contemporary example from the 1980s, the widespread availability of photocopiers
in offices offered the facility for an explosion of fanzines and ephemeral self-published
magazines. These homemade magazines were distributed by hand to local communities
or networks of friends. One particular example stands out as it offered ‘a free bowl of
breakfast cereal with every 1000 copies’ purchased and had a sugar puff taped to the front
cover. This is just one example of the ingenuity, wit and creativity of non-designers and also
demonstrates the transient nature of non-design innovation or vernacular design. These types
of intervention are happening all the time without any connection to professional design,
appearing, thriving and disappearing with little recognition or record outside their community.
This ‘vernacular’ design is separate from the conventional design economy and is little
represented in open design literature. It illustrates that actually open design is not well
understood within design discourse. Indeed to understand the intellectual foundations
informing and guiding open design, one has to look (with a few notable exceptions) to
innovation studies. Innovation is a significant area of research that emerged in the 1930s as
a branch of management studies. There are many branches of research in innovation that
are relevant to open design, including democratized innovation, open innovation, absorptive
capacity (taking in new ideas), dynamic capability (changing as the result of taking in new
ideas), social innovation and the effects and characteristics of networks, communities and
clusters. We will discuss some of these in the following chapters.

The Role of Digital Technology
Digital technology has had an accelerating effect in this emerging open design landscape.
While people have always exploited technological possibilities (see Oudshoorn and Pinch,
How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology, 2003), digital technology
has introduced new possibilities to open design. This is evident in all stages of innovation,
from looking for ideas and information for inspiration, to concept development, to testing,
prototyping, marketing and selling design. Above all it is the easy dissemination, duplication,
modification and exchange of ideas that is having the biggest impact on design. In a well-

Chapter 1: Introduction to Open Design


documented case study from innovation studies, the extreme sport of kite surfing was
revolutionised by a small, globally distributed community of enthusiasts developing their own
kite designs and exchanging CAD files, to such an extent that one of the leading companies
closed their R&D and design departments as they were seen to be less effective than
community designers (Von Hippel, 2006). Having said this, the reality is that new technological
capabilities will only gain traction if they chime with wider society, and so understanding nontechnological factors is crucial when engaging with open design.

Looking Beyond Technical Capability
The aim of this book is to look at the substance beneath the general descriptions of open
design and, putting utopian predictions to one side, examine some of the fundamental issues
that will inform the development (or retreat) of open design in the coming years. While these
key issues are mediated by technology, the argument made here is that, fundamentally, open
design will appropriate technological capabilities however it develops. In essence it does not
really matter what next year’s 3D printers can do, or what a specific web-based service is
offering; what is much more important for the sustainability of open design is the processes
and activities that exploit these emerging possibilities connecting them to the enthusiasm and
motivations of everyday people.
This de-emphasis of technology goes against some definitions of open design, including
Atkinson who describes open design as ‘internet-enabled collaborative creation of artifacts
by a dispersed group of otherwise unrelated individuals’ (Cruickshank and Atkinson, 2013).
In contrast to Atkinson’s position, here I argue that the underlying motivations for open
design are much slower to change than the tools they exploit as these motivations rely more
on human nature than technical possibilities. These foundations are just as evident in the
call for creative revolution in the 1960s, in the rash of punk bands in the 1970s and people
photocopying fanzines in the 1980s as they are in Fab Labs and Kickstarter, or other examples
of contemporary open design platforms.
Throughout this book we will be focusing on five key issues that together will determine how the
design profession adapts to the possibilities of open design. Broadly this will involve the design
profession’s move away from being the gatekeepers of creation and technological production
(such as printing presses, websites or heavy production machinery) to a more collaborative,
collective mode of working. The key issues covered by this book are:
1. The landscape and literature of open design
2. The diversity of open design approaches in practice
3. The problems traditional designers face when operating in an open manner when working
on real-world, commercial projects


Part 1: Open Design in Context

4. Strategies in design education to develop a new type of open designer
5. New open designers in action and the benefits this new type of designer has to offer.
Through these five key themes we will be exploring, proposing and sometimes promoting
the participation of professional design in open design. It may seem a little odd to have to
make the argument that designers should be involved in open design processes, but in reality
professional design is not a driving force in this area and in many cases the position of a
professional designer is just not seen as relevant. For example, when looking at the volume
of graphic communication, especially for the web, the proportion of this created by graphic
designers (or others trained as designers) is getting smaller and smaller as more and more
people exploit the increasingly easy to use platforms to create their own communication. These
platforms include blogging sites such as Wordpress, to Facebook, to commercially available
‘design your own company website’ services using templates to quickly create generic but
serviceable sites.
For some the profusion of creative activity beyond any professional design is a good thing
and they assume that the design profession will fade away over time. In contrast there is
an argument that if there was a way for designers to help people do their own thing without
imposing their own values, the outcomes could be better. Design education has been
recognised as engendering skills and competencies, for instance, in creativity, holistic thinking
and visualisation techniques, that can contribute to open design in a significant manner. One of
the key challenges for designers in open design processes is to assist participants in reaching
their full creative potential without the designer taking a controlling, hierarchical position. This
is not a trivial or niche issue for the design profession; the radical changes seen in photography
and graphic design are now starting to affect product design and other disciplines. In time
almost every area of design will have to respond to open design, and it is adapt or die for many
design sectors.

Book Structure
This book is divided into three sections: the first draws together ideas from across the
spectrum of open design and innovation; the second introduces new, in-depth case studies of
open design not previously published; the third looks to the future of design. Section one also
explores the first theme, the landscape of design, innovation and open design. Understanding
this foundation is critical because it is only through this that we will be able to develop new,
productive relationships between the design profession and wider open design activity.
This starts with a close look at the relationship between design and innovation. Design and
innovation have many overlaps and commonalities but also a great deal of distance; for
example, the 650-page Oxford Handbook of Innovation does not include design in the index.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Open Design


Precisely because innovation studies is not preoccupied by design, it is highly relevant to
open design. In particular there is interesting work on open creative processes that do not
include any design input; these include democratised innovation, crowd sourcing and the
activities of pro-sumers.
Open design has grown out of activities such as mass creativity and inclusive design
processes. Building on an analysis of innovation, we go on to explore the impact and
implications of mass creativity. This is where groups of people, often distributed around the
world, collaborate together on a creative project. For example, a large group of surgeons
collaborated together to create the first heart–lung machine, a machine to keep a patient
alive while their heart and lungs are simultaneously transplanted. In a more populist
example, hundreds of amateur film makers around the world came together to remake the
film Star Wars, with each participant making a 15-second scene all in different styles and
using different techniques, from live action to computer animation to glove puppets (www.
Following this the often slightly anarchic processes in mass creativity, we look at how the
design profession is responding to mass creativity and the methods it uses to include people
in the creative process, a key requirement of open design. This focuses on user-centred
design that exploits observation and focus groups (amongst other methods) and is popular
in the conventional design mainstream. We contrast this with participatory design; this is an
interesting example as it places a strong emphasis on being open to participant creativity but in
a quite controlling, structured set of processes.
Finally this first section looks at some of the practical responses the design industry has had
to both ‘ground up’ creativity and ideas filtering through from innovation studies, such as mass
creativity and crowd sourcing. These include designers trying to make things that appear to
have been ‘not designed’ – for example, design agencies faking ‘user-generated content’;
or creating part-finished objects for customers to complete at home, for example, Droog’s
bash into shape metal cube chair. We will also be considering approaches where designers
create new structures to help people be creative in their own way – blogging websites such as
Wordpress are a good example of this sort of platform approach.
The second half of the book consists of a series of extended case studies, each addressing one
of the core themes identified above. These case studies ground one of the themes in real-world
projects and activity not previously published or described in the design or open design literature.
The first two case studies focus on the diversity of open design approaches, contrasting
Gadgeteer, an open source technology platform developed by Microsoft research, with a much
more human-focused approach employed by Region 27, a group pioneering the collaborative
development and prototyping of public services in France.


Part 1: Open Design in Context

The third case study identifies some of the problems traditional designers face when operating
in an open manner. Specifically this addresses the challenges designers faced when working in
an open way with recently retired residents on a design project in Eindhoven. The Silver=Gold
project exemplifies the difficulty some designers have in giving up control of the creative
aspects of design processes.
The fourth case study looks at how Delft Technical University has changed its curriculum to
help its students use more open approaches in their design projects. They now run a course
(or module, as we would say in the UK) to help students facilitate creative contributions from
others. This represents the first moves in the systematic development of a new kind of open
The fifth case study documents a new design process built on an open design ethos. A team
of open designers developed an approach that enabled them to play an active part in a highprofile urban design project whilst remaining equal partners rather than gatekeepers of the
creative process.
Finally we conclude with a chapter that draws together the wider understanding of design, mass
creativity and innovation with the case studies. This goes on to articulate a framework for how
designers can contribute more proactively and progressively to open design projects in the

Chapter 2
Innovation and Design in Context

Open design occupies a space between design and innovation. This chapter
explores the relationship between these two areas and, through this, describes
the landscape in which new open design projects and activities operate.
The chapter pays particular attention to open innovation, challenging the
conventional understanding of this and its relationship to open design.

The Relationship Between Innovation and Design
Innovation is one of the most overused words in contemporary culture – it is often used as a
cover-all for newness, progress or economic success. While this can be rather bewildering, the
underlying research on innovation is very important in understanding open design. The trick is
to be able to filter the significant ideas and research from the froth of political expediency and
populist ‘airport books’ aimed at owner managers looking for a quick fix. To do this we need
to firstly understand the relationship between design and innovation. It is at this boundary that
most of the insights for open design are to be gathered.
Even filtering out generalist or superficial uses of the term ‘innovation’, there is still a huge body
of work to draw from. Equally design has its own large body of literature. The aim of this chapter
is not to provide a definitive description of either of these – for that, start with Guy Julier’s The
Culture of Design and Jan Fagerberg’s Oxford Handbook of Innovation. Rather this chapter will
establish the common ground between these often overlapping areas.
The borders between innovation and design are complicated and fractious, with a general lack
of acknowledgement of the relationships between these two areas. For example, Fagerberg’s
definitive anthology of essays on innovation does not mention design in the index of its 650
pages. In a recent review of the ten leading textbooks on innovation, none of them had a
chapter on design and many did not even have a design section (Hobday, Boddington and
Grantham, 2011).
From a design perspective, there is sometimes an outright hostility towards innovation. In ‘Down
with innovation’, Rick Poynor argues that ‘innovation’ is a term invented by business to take
design activity away from designers (Poynor, 2008). Other design commentators treat design
and innovation as though they are the same thing. Books such as The Art of Innovation and The


Part 1: Open Design in Context

Ten Faces of Innovation by IDEO founder Tom Kelley adopt this position – the term innovation
is used interchangeably with design. IDEO is looking to promote its services to as wide an
audience as possible, so strategically it suits them to be seen as innovation as well as design
This blending of design and innovation does both fields a disservice; as we will see below, they
are distinctly different and have very different contributions to make to the open design debate.
There is small but growing common ground between innovation and design. This is still
coming into focus through writers including Roberto Verganti, James Utterback, Bettina von
Stamm, Michael Hobday and others. It is too much to suggest that there is agreement between
these authors but there is an emerging common context for discussion between design and
innovation; this is described in more detail in ‘The innovation dimension: designing in a broader
context’ (Cruickshank, 2010).

Design and Open Design
One of the first uses of the term ‘open design’ in the context in which we are using it here was by
Ronen Kadushin in his master’s thesis and it was later formalised into the open design manifesto
(Kadushin, 2010). This simple document calls for a physical analogy of open source software
production. What is missing from the open design manifesto is a connection to a wider design
tradition or the design profession. Open design challenges some of the characteristics that define
professional design, for example, in the value of individuality and the role of the designer as creative
master. It is only through understanding the nature of professional design that a new role for design in
open design can be developed.

Understanding the Designer
Designers often adopt the romantic pose of the creative genius; traditionally this has been
fostered in art and design schools where being quirky and swimming against convention are
encouraged and rewarded. This culture of eccentricity is deeply engrained in design – in the
Bauhaus in 1930s Germany (the birthplace of contemporary design education), students would
occasionally come to classes with shoes painted on their bare feet.
Many contemporary designers sell their services on the strength of the ‘magic’ they can weave
to solve problems and then move onto the next challenge in another town/company/sector. This
view of the designer as a knight in shining armour using their innate talents to find and then
solve the problem is the mainstay of traditional design. For example, Paul Rand, a grandee of
graphic design, especially in the US from the 1950s onwards declares:

Chapter 2: Innovation and Design in Context


‘Design is a personal activity and springs
from the creative impulse of an individual.
Group design or design by committee,
although occasionally useful, deprives
the designer of the distinct pleasure
of personal accomplishment and selfrealisation. It may even hinder his or her
thought processes, because work is not
practiced under natural, tension-free
conditions …’ (Rand, 1993)
It is now very unusual for contemporary designers to work in isolation professionally. More and
more there is a collaborative emphasis in design, and team-working is becoming the norm;
open design is an extreme manifestation of these new collaborative realities. In open design
the designer is absolutely not in control of the creative process, although they may have an
active contribution to it. In the case studies in the second half of this book we see a shift from
‘designer as genius’ to ‘designer as facilitator’. We also see how difficult this transformation is
for some designers. This opening up of the design universe into more collaborative possibilities
is driving curriculum development in some of the leading design education institutions (for
example, Delft Technical University), helping to create designers who have these facilitation
Later in this book we see designers who define their personal value as a designer on ‘having
the ideas’. In the Silver=Gold case study we see that others in the open design project identified
the value of designers not in terms of the concepts suggested but in the approaches and
perspectives they brought to the process. For them, the ideas generated were rather mundane
but, as one of the council officers says: ‘why would they be exciting ideas, we do this every
day while they are just visiting.’ The challenge for designers is that often they assume that their
ideas will be better, even if they are ‘just visiting’.
Rethinking the role of the designer and not seeing them as the primary source of creativity in
projects impacts on the very bedrock of what it is to be a designer. To get to the bottom of this
we need to look at where ‘design’ comes from. While Klaus Kripendorff traces the meaning of
the word ‘design’ back to De + signare, as something describing a sign (Krippendorff, 1989), Guy


Part 1: Open Design in Context

Julier draws the contemporary meaning of the word ‘design’ from ‘designo’, the Renaissance
word denoting the person who drew frescos while others came later and painted them.
In Julier’s view, the separation of drawing a plan, fixing the composition of a fresco with
someone else coming along to paint between the lines represents a separation between
planning and doing that is the fundamental characteristic of design. Designers create a plan,
blueprint or specification that someone else actually manufactures.

The Birth of the Designer
There have always been entrepreneurs and hobbyists who employed people to make things
to their plans, but the advent of the industrial revolution changed this picture radically. In the
early nineteenth century the need for large numbers of people who could help capitalise on
new technical possibilities became critical. The result was the establishment of ‘Schools of
Design’ in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham in the 1850s, promoting ‘visual innovation for
manufactured articles’. By 1875 these schools had trained 15,000 people to design for sectors
including textiles, furniture and ceramics (Pavitt, 1984). Designers became the connection
point between production technology, market demand and business issues such as return on
This nineteenth-century role for design still shapes our conception of the contemporary
designer, even though consumers, production technology and business models have all
radically transformed during this time. For example, in the automotive industry the business
model of reducing costs through standardised mass production is no longer dominant. Now
even budget cars are customised at the point of order and efficient manufacturing and supply
chain management allows for mass production efficiency to be combined with a personalised
product. In Chapter 4 we explore how design transformed from a need in manufacturing to an
emerging professional body.
Brian Lawson has written extensively on the separation between planning and doing as the
defining factor of design activity. In How Designers Think (Lawson, 1999) and What Designers
Know (Lawson, 2004), he draws on research from cognitive science to argue that designers
are different from other people. He claims that, because they draw heavily on visualisation
to solve problems, they have a distinct advantage in problem solving compared with more
practical hands-on or experimental approaches. He compares architectural innovation (with
rapid progress through visualisation) with that of the blacksmith (with very slow progress and a
practice-based approach).
The argument for designers as special people (with special brains!) prompts the question, who
actually does design? Some take a very general view of design – for example, Herbert Simon

Chapter 2: Innovation and Design in Context


declared: ‘design is the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones’ (Hobday,
Boddington and Grantham, 2011) – and Victor Papanek insisted we are all designers. These
definitions and a general common sense understanding of designing contradict Lawson.
Determining exactly who is a designer is rather like attempting to establish whether someone
is a photographer. In design, like photography, there are highly specialised professionals but
there are also many people who take photographs or design without any training and, for
example, successfully create their own house, or magazine or a Facebook page. The difficulty
in comparing these two types of design activity is that they have radically different criteria or
‘frames’ for success. For example, a corporate identity for a multinational company will have
very different success criteria than a blog or local newspaper.
Open design depends on bringing together but also preserving the distinctiveness of different
frames of reference. A large team of designers working together is likely to think in similar
ways and come up with similar ideas, and making the team bigger will result in more ideas
but of a similar type. The power of open design is to combine very different outlooks and
perspectives in a creative process in such a way that they can have a creative contribution in
a manner that is both distinctive but also builds on the other perspectives in the group. This
is very difficult but has a double benefit: it can enable professional designers to continue to
contribute when their role as gatekeeper to production technology is removed; it also offers
the potential of simply better design solutions.
The most well known description of frames of reference controlling how we see the world
comes from Thomas Kuhn’s seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolution (Kuhn,
1970). Kuhn introduced the notion of ‘paradigms’ as a framework through which our view of
the world is shaped. He uses how we think about astronomy as an example of paradigms
and how these are stretched until they break and there is a revolution. In the second
century AD, Claudius Ptolemy developed the scientific method and undertook astronomical
studies that followed accepted practice, placing the earth at the centre of the universe
with everything revolving around it. In the following centuries this model was modified in
increasingly unlikely ways to accommodate more and more accurate observation of how the
stars and planets moved in reality. This adaptation continued for a few hundred years until
the model was broken by Copernicus placing the sun at the centre of the universe, causing
a scientific revolution and a new model to emerge that in turn is refined and modified to fit

Wicked Problems
People operating in different frames of reference find it very difficult to relate meaningfully
to each other; their view of the world is fundamentally different. The design theorist Richard


Part 1: Open Design in Context

Coyne drew on this ‘incommensurability between frames’ very effectively to explain the
clash of ideology between design scientists such as Herbert Simons (the ‘systemisers’, as
Coyne labels them) and designers with a more hermeneutical, postmodern approach. Coyne
embraces this latter approach with its lack of certainty and metrics. Specifically he draws
on ideas such as Horst Rittel’s ‘wicked problems’ (Coyne, 2005). Wicked problems are
characterised by (amongst other things) being impossible to define clearly and not having
a single correct answer. Coyne argues that almost all problems outside mathematics are
wicked. The contrast between the two frames Coyne presents is exemplified in architecture.
In a housing scheme the rationalist architect Le Corbusier determined the ‘best’ place to
put the furniture in a room and permanently built this into the fabric of the houses. This
sort of rigid design is diametrically opposed to wicked thinking where design problems are
not equations to be solved, but need to reflect the uniqueness of the context and people
Open design very much fits into this second, emergent, wicked-friendly role for the
designer. One of the drivers for this book is the idea that the conventional frames for
understanding and doing design are changing dramatically, led by a rejection of onesize-fits-all in manufacturing and business. The role of the designer as gatekeeper of the
means of production is changing. We will be exploring this in more depth in Chapter 4,
looking at the future of design, but there are new possibilities and challenges emerging
across the design spectrum. The idea of the star designer is ebbing away; gone are the
days when it was OK for a designer to sign all the design sheets they worked on to give the
ideas personal authority, the way that the architect Philip Johnson used to. As the likes of
Philippe Starck recede into self-parody and entertainment, designers are having to get to
grips with the fact that in almost every case they are not the central figure in the creation of
new products, services or systems. Open design is a strong example of the erosion of the
creative authority of the designer.
This non-design-centric perspective is normal within innovation thinking and offers one
explanation why innovation research is often leading design in terms of new creative
processes, especially as they relate to open design. There is, however, a flip side to this –
across innovation literature as a whole there is little engagement with invention. This shying
away from the creative spark has made it difficult for design and designers to contribute to
innovation literature as conversely design starts from this point of creation.
In essence this is why it is fruitful to think about design and innovation together; design
is comfortable with the uncertainty and risk through iteration and fast prototyping, while
innovation is not bound to this way of thinking and can offer more strategic insights across the
development process.

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