Posts tagged wikihouse
The Open Source Object

The term "planned obsolescence" was supposedly coined by Milwaukee-based industrial designer Brooks Stevens in 1954 for a presentation in Minneapolis. However, a search onGoogle's Ngram tool, which tracks the prevalence of phrases in books over time, traces the first appearance of the expression to 1929. Stevens couched its use in different terms than it has come to be understood today: “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” He thought of planned obsolescence not as a set of design flaws time-delayed into the infrastructure of a product, but more of a marketing ploy meant to make the old versions look out-of-date. Car companies, with their yearly model changeovers, are masters at this; phone companies have aped their success at a cheaper price point.

In the era of software, executing planned obsolescence has become easier than ever. An operating system update pushed out to devices with little or no choice from users can savage functionality. The practice of "instilling desire in the buyer a little sooner than necessary" is now a centralized, push-button operation. These software manipulations are inextricably linked into a whole ecosystem of difficult-to-repair hardware built with proprietary fasteners, edge-to-edge screens, and finicky, expensive batteries. Recently, I wrote a post on this sad back-and-forth, as illustrated through designer Thomas Thwaites' attempt to build a toaster from scratch.

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Flat-Pack Design: Past, Present, and Future

Twice in the last few months I have been out to FabLab Baltimore, at CCBC Catonsville. Last week, I took the introductory workshop that is a prerequisite for using the facility. At home, I've been hard at work on the CAD files that will translate my Ziptie Lounger into some form that a CNC router will understand. All of this is in preparation for prototyping my first machine-made piece of furniture, which I've posted over at OpenDesk, a platform for distributed design. Distributed design, in its simplest form, operates something like Instructables -- a central online repository of DIY manuals that folks can follow to make their own products. However, making something from scratch still presents significant barriers to entry, namely skills, tools, and time.

OpenDesk, along with similar startup Assmbly, are challenging (or, to use a current term of art, "disrupt") the traditional design-manufacture-wholesale-retail model that the furniture business has operated on for a hundred years. Designs are uploaded to the OpenDesk site, where they can be downloaded directly for free or, for a fee, sent to a local networked fabber who will cut, sand, and drop-ship the parts to the consumer's doorstep. Everyone in the chain -- OpenDesk, designer, and fabber -- make a small profit. Due to the nature of both the fabrication machines and the distribution network, all of the products are flat-pack.

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