Posts Tagged ‘product design’
Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on December 20th, 2012
From “How to make everything ourselves: Open modular hardware” by Kris de Decker:
Reverting to traditional handicrafts is one way to sabotage the throwaway society. In this article, we discuss another possibility: the design of modular consumer products, whose parts and components could be re-used for the design of other products.
Initiatives like OpenStructures, Grid Beam, and Contraptor combine the modularity of systems like LEGO, Meccano and Erector with the collaborative power of digital success stories like Wikipedia, Linux or WordPress. An economy based on the concept of re-use would not only bring important advantages in terms of sustainability, but would also save consumers money, speed up innovation, and take manufacturing out of the hands of multinationals. A modular system unites the advantages of standardisation (as parts can be produced cheaply in large amounts) with the advantages of customisation (since a large diversity of unique objects can be made with relatively few parts). Modularity can be found to a greater or lesser extent in many products (like bicycles and computers) and systems (like trains and logistics), but the best examples of modular systems are toys: LEGO, Meccano, and Erector (which is now the brand name of Meccano in the US).
In spite of the similarities, there is one fundamental difference between modular construction systems such as OpenStructures, Grid Beam and Contraptor, and modular toys such as LEGO, Meccano and Erector. The first group consists of “open” modular systems, where everyone is free to design and produce parts, while the second consists of “closed” modular systems, where all parts are designed and produced by one manufacturer. Closed modular systems produce uniform parts. For instance, all LEGO building blocks are made of plastic. LEGO does not produce building blocks made of wood, aluminium, glass or ceramics. There is a limited range of colours. And because LEGO is a closed system, nobody else is allowed to produce LEGO pieces.
An open modular system has many advantages over a closed modular system. Since anyone can design parts in an open system, it generates a much larger diversity of parts: they can be made in different colours and materials, and none of the producers can set a fixed price for all consumers. And because many designers constantly review, adapt and improve each others’ work, innovation is accelerated. All open software systems described above are arguably better than their closed counterparts, and some of them have become more successful. A closed modular system only has one advantage: the one who holds the copyright makes a lot of money.
Open modular construction does not mean that everyone should make their own consumer products. An object like a coffee maker or a workbench could be obtained in at least three ways. Firstly, the consumer can download the digital design and then assemble the object with parts that he or she buys, re-uses, or makes using a 3D-printer or laser cutter, whether at home or at a fab lab or tech shop. It can also happen in a more low-tech fashion, as is the case with Grid Beam: the consumer buys wood or metal beams, and drills the holes himself.
A second option is that a company buys the license of the design (if it is not free) and converts it into a building kit, comparable to a kit from LEGO, Meccano or Erector. In this case, the consumer would not have to search for the parts himself, but he still assembles the product himself, just like he would assemble a piece of furniture by IKEA. Similarly, a company could offer a more general building kit, which can be used to make whatever one would like, similar to a box of basic LEGO bricks. Bit Beam, Contraptor, Open Beam, Maker Beam and, recently, Grid Beam offer one or both of these options.
The third possibility is that a manufacturer places the object on the market as a finished, assembled product. The coffee maker or the workbench would then be sold and bought just as any other product today, but it can be disassembled after use, and its parts can be re-used for other objects.
Read the full article by Kris de Decker at Resilience or at Low-Tech – the grabs (above) from the article don’t do true justice to the original.
Source: Food Climate Research Network (FCRN)
Bocken N M P, Allwood J M, Willey A R and King J M H (2011). ‘Development of an eco-ideation tool to identify stepwise greenhouse gas emissions reduction options for consumer goods’ Journal of Cleaner Production 19 1279-1287
Pressure on consumer goods manufacturers to develop new products with significantly less environmental impact is growing, through increased consumer awareness of environmental issues and governments setting ambitious emissions reductions targets. A strategic response to this pressure is to prepare a portfolio of innovative product ideas to meet a range of future emissions reductions targets.However, although extensive work exists on ideation (the generation of novel product ideas) and ecodesign (design for reduced environmental impact), eco-ideation (generation of ideas that particularly aim to reduce environmental impacts) has had little attention.
The challenge of eco-ideation is to release the creativity of a broad range of employees, only few of whom may be familiar with the drivers of environmental impact. This paper proposes a novel tool to facilitate the generation of radical product and process ideas giving step-change reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The features of products and processes that drive greenhouse gas emissions across the product life cycle were characterized with a set of indicators. A simple visual tool was created to show these indicators on a sliding scale between best and worst imaginable performance. A leading question associated with each slider was designed to stimulate lower impact ideas.
The tool was iteratively refined and simplified through structured testing with individuals from across a range of roles and differing knowledge of environmental impacts. The final eco-ideation tool used 14 scales, with leading questions for each scale developed to stimulate idea generation. The tool’s effectiveness was evaluated through use in a series of 15 individual workshops and compared with the outcomes of an equal number of conventional 12-person group-brainstorming sessions.
The comparison suggests that using the simple tool generally leads to a wider range of more radical ideas than emerge from group brainstorming.
Read more about the Eco-Ideation paper here.