Friday, October 24, 2003

Design for hackability

LEGO Design School - Designing with Doors: Open the door to new design possibilities! When is a door not actually a door? Learn about some of the interesting and creative ways to use LEGO doors...

I wish more things were designed so that I can make them be what I want, and I'm not the only one who feels this way. The LEGO Mindstorms community thinks so too. And so do folks in game mod communities. Actually, gamers seem to understand the beauty of hackability better than most.

The more technically-inclined call this end-user configuration. Other people say we can get there by designing with ambiguity in mind. The more poetic simply don't want to lose chances for serendipitous use.

But I want to get back to my original statement, "designed so that I can make them be what I want." First, this should be distinguished from bespoke design - which I don't make at all, but comes to me exactly as I want. I'm talking about giving me cool building blocks, or half-baked ideas, so that I can build something (new) from them.

[Incidentally, I have always wanted to organise a conference on failed designs and faulty ideas, but I have been roundly unsuccessful in convincing others that a "public airing of dirty laundry" can be a good thing. Still, I get excited imagining what we could learn from each other, and the things we could build from that...]

Inventables - New Materials & Technology Resource for Innovative Design - gets closer to what I want. A subscription to the service gets you physical samples of new materials, research findings and design guides every three months. From there you're on your own. Brilliant. But too expensive for the average person.

I imagine something like themed boxes containing open-source materials and code. For example, the SUBVERSION box might contain a selection of tactical media tools that people can put to use in whatever ways they wish.

What I want is to make it easier to afford new technologies and learn how to use them. I want to encourage counter-applications, personal and collective engagement. I want people to gain a sense of ownership and authorship over new technologies. And I want non-designers to teach designers something about creativity, design and use.

Update: Programmable Bricks (Resnick, MIT - became MindStorms) / Beyond Black Boxes:Bringing Transparency and Aesthetics Back to Scientific Investigation, Resnick, Berg, Eisenberg / The Computer Clubhouse:
Technological Fluency in the Inner City
, Resnick, Rusk, Cooke

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