Open for design

Rich Fortune is setting the pace and vision for the newly formed Open Design Council.

Rich Fortune is setting the pace and vision for the newly formed Open Design Council.

Rich Fortune, Open Design CouncilThe curiously named Richard Fortune is the brains behind the Open Design Council. Fortune, an Irish IT worker, design enthusiast and thinker, relocated from London to Wellington three years ago with a dream of lowering the accessibility level of product design.

Wearing a checked shirt, skinny jeans and trainers, Fortune sits opposite me in a café down in Wellington's central business district. Coffee in front of him, he eagerly shares the ODC vision.

Fortune sees an epochal creative transformation on the horizon and if the ODC has anything to say about it, at least within New Zealand, it should happen on an even playing field. The council has been established to respond to and locally guide the impending open design and digital fabrication revolutions.

"We are perfectly primed for a great social enterprise evolution," Fortune says. "The government is recognising that there is a massive under-utilisation of the human resources we have in this country.

“There are people at home who have very powerful ideas that could solve everyday problems, but have previously been blocked from delivering these due to a lack of skills or access to the right tools.”

Fortune and the ODC aim to bridge these disconnects through open design and digital fabrication. For those unfamiliar, open design is the development of physical products, machines and systems through publicly shared design information.

Comparable to the more mainstream open source software movement, Open Design is, much like Open Source, generally facilitated through the internet. From there, these designs are generally rendered physically through digital fabrication.

Involving a digital fabricator, which is a self-contained factory that can make objects as described to them by digital data, Fortune's key introduction to these hand-in-hand arenas was initially through lasercutting, and then 3D printing.

And 3D printers, as the name suggests, can print three dimensional objects as models, prototypes or final projects in remarkably swift timeframes.

"I can create a 3D model of a cup on my PC, send it to the 3D printer and have a model in my hands within the hour," Fortune says.

"If there is an obvious flaw in the design, I can revise the model and repeat the process. If the model is good enough to go into production, I can share the 3D file online for others to use and print as they see fit. It's hard to not see this as a revolutionary series of steps."

While Fortune is aware of similar initiatives being established in distinct cities overseas, he isn't aware of any other country with a national initiative specifically set up to expose the public to both Open Design philosophy and facilitate ground level access to digital fabrication tools.

"Digital fabrication tools are about to go mainstream," he says. "These tools are keys to unlocking the potential of a whole new ecosystem of creativity. Just like the PC opened up revenue streams that are now integral to most economies, digital fabrication is about to do the same for manufacturing and product design.

“Thanks to the philosophy of Open Design and access to digital fabrication tools, we can begin to take innovation to grassroots levels. Imagine a situation in which neighbors came together to design solutions for local problems – where qualified product designers were driving workshops with people in their local area and could help those people come up with solutions that were perfectly tailored to their needs."

With an interest in designing and making objects since childhood, Fortune headed down this path in earnest a year ago, when he decided he wanted to join a Makerspace. Makerspaces are essentially open community work labs where people can share resources and knowledge. In the process, Fortune ended up establishing a space, The Digital Fabrication HQ (located in the production village in Mt Cook, Wellington).

Working through the process of establishment made Fortune lucidly aware of how much more smoothly things would have gone with a stewarding body in place, and by virtue of that, a more accessible culture. And, given not only the existing Kiwi innovation culture, but the manageable networking size of the country ("You can meet the right people here," he says), turning this vision into early system architecture was smooth.

Now an incorporated society, and partnered with Makers Org New Zealand (MoNZ), Fortune has assembled a likeminded nationwide panel of qualified product designers, installation artists and educators. Currently developing strategies and presenting their charter to companies involved in digital fabrication, academic institutions and government, Fortune and the ODC's belief is that, as he puts it, "you demonstrate through action, not words."

As a result they have been engaged in a range of technology socalisation projects, such as basic robotics courses for children and free technology primer classes through the existing MoNZ network, including 3D modeling, electronics and programming.

In development right now are plans for an Open Design mobile Makerspace or, as Fortune puts it, "spore lab", which will be deployed around the country to promote Open Design and digital fabrication to the public.

Augmenting this with steady online documentation and a quarterly journal, the ODC also intends to use these programs and spaces as a vehicle to educate policy makers. "Only through immersion do we realise potential," he enthuses.

From where Fortune is standing, we need to get this show on the road as soon as possible.

"We don't want to find ourselves in the same situation as we had with the software revolution," he says. "There is a general ill ease that still exists around information technology today for many. We see that kids are so much more technology savvy than we are because they have grown up with computers. Imagine how product savvy they could be if they grow up in an open design-led future."

And while Fortune draws similar parallels between this and open source software, he sees what is coming next is happening at an exponentially rapid rate.

"This revolution will not be so patient," he says. "The limits of human ingenuity are the only limitation I see here."

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