What Is Open Design? – Mifactori



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What Is Open Design?

Open Design is at the table for some time now. There are different ideas, approaches and philosophies connected to the term. But the differences are small, everything is driving more ore less towards the same direction. Here is the approach that is key to us framing it as Open Circular Design:

(Article Version 1.1, Earlier Versions)

Open Design is: FutureS

Open means to leave options open for the future. Enable and keep as many different productive futures as possible; with design, through design and despite of design. With this Open Design is an approach to sustainable, anti climate change and circular design which also aim to preserve opportunities for the future.

Here are 9 strategies for this. The more you use for your designs the more open, circular and sustainable they are.

Open Design is or uses:


Open Design choses parts, tools and production methods based on common, open, widespread standards.

  • Standards that are well documented and widespread form the basis for a shared understanding and collaboration. They enable others to work with your design and its parts in order to give it a new future.
  • Ideally these standard parts, tools and methods are versatile and durable themselves and accessible almost everywhere on the globe for everyone.


Open Design selects easily recyclable materials and uses design methods that support recycling.

  • Recycling is almost always better than incineration or landfill. But it still is usually a dirty, energy intense, environmentally harmful and complex process. But with some materials this is less bad than with others – for example because there are infrastructures established for the recycling of these materials. Paper is an example in some parts of the world. Go for these materials!
  • Recycling keeps an open future as it keeps materials in the loop for future designs and reduces the pressure and damage on the environment that supplies us with raw materials.


Ideally Open Design is easy to understand and make for almost everyone.

  • At best Open Design does not require special skills, high level expert knowledge or extraordinary craftsmanship to understand and produce it. The future of an object is shaped by those who hold it in their hands. Making sure that a lot of people can work with the design and its parts and potentials adds many different futures!
  • It is clear that this is easier for some products than for others. But always try your best and push the limits!

Open Licensed

Open Design tries to give everyone legal certainty that they can work freely with the design in all possible ways without any obstacles.

  • While Open Design needs to give people every imaginable freedom to work with the design property rights are here to achieve exactly the opposite. So to make your design open you need to take care of this.
  • Start with the use of Open Source compatible licenses (↑) for your design. Those licenses allow everyone to „study, modify, distribute, make and sell the design or objects based on that design.“ (↑)
  • Also do not apply for patents, utility rights or design rights and communicate clearly that you don‘t intend to do and that you also don’t intend to make use of any unregistered design rights you might have. (Example for this)
  • The premier class of Open Design manages even to avoid original ideas that are possible candidate for patents, utility rights or design rights. Boring is a safe way to Openness. (Read more about this here.)

Support For The Biosphere

Open Design aims to preserve and nurture a productive biosphere.

  • The biosphere as it is today produces and provides resources and opportunities that make us healthy and fit to build desirable futures. Maintaining the biosphere maintains options.
  • To achieve this Open Design minimizes toxic ingredients, energy consumption, land use and resource consumption in any way it can find.
  • A nice way to do this is to chose biodegradable materials. Biodegration is natures way of recycling!
  • Support the biosphere structurally, give nature a home and a place by your side.
  • Go for low entropy: Reduce. Avoid. Replace something with nothing. +


Ideally Open Design choses multi-use parts and materials and maintains their reusability.

  • Open Design choses parts and materials that are usable and reusable in many different ways because they come with many different potential futures from the start. But when using them Open Design even tries not to change them so that they can still fulfil all the other uses later on when they left the design. Don‘t adapt your parts and materials to your design, adapt your design to your parts and materials. This is called Pre-Use.
  • If you need to modify parts and materials go for modifications that add possibilities to them rather than taking them away. (Example: 3erlin Grid).


Open Design educates people instead of addressing them as stupid consumers.

  • As said: The future of an object and its parts and atoms lies in the hands of those who hold it in their hands. If you want to enable productive futures you need to make sure that the people who have it in their hands can see, understand, access and create these futures. So Open Design explains itself.
  • The design might be self explanatory through simplicity or come with explanations to enable productive work with the design itself and the production methods used for it. Supportive documentation might include a bill of materials, assembly instructions, original design files and more. Good guidelines for which documents should be provided in what form can be found in the Open Source Hardware definition (↑) and the DIN Spec for Open Source Hardware (↑).
  • When people learn new things their possibilities usually grow; education opens futures!
  • Be a communicator! When you design for the open you have to learn not just B2B communication but direct communication to all users. (↑)

Upcycling Friendly

Open Design enables and supports the use of old already used parts and materials.

  • Open Design is made for reuse and remix in order to enable different futures. Great Open Design even makes it easy to reuse old parts and materials. So ideally Open Design can be made from many different materials. It might allow you to include old and already used materials and parts in the design that you source for example through urban mining. This is called Upcycling.
  • Make designs that can be made from scraps or garbage. This reduces the ecological footprint of your design (and design at all) and keeps the potentials of our environment to support many different futures.
  • Upcycling and urban mining friendliness add possibilities because the number of opportunities to source parts and materials increases. It is not just shops but also scrap yards and so on. You can source regionally.
  • (More: Modularize It! A design research programme.)


Open Design is modular wherever possible.

  • Modularity where it supports various (re)uses is a key to supporting many different futures. With 6 2×4 Lego bricks you can make 915,104,765 different combinations (↑). This kind of future options Open Design is looking for.
  • Modularity is a meta principle of Open Design as all of the strategies above can be seen as forms of modularity or support mechanisms for it. They aim at compatibility, upgradability and adaptability. “Standards” are often used and understood by many therefore it is likely that there are several types of applications and many are familiar with them. “Simplicity”, “Educativeness” and “Open Licenses” include as many people as possible in the design process increasing the number of options actually used. “Pre-Use” and “Recycling” look for many free new uses of materials. “Support for the Biosphere” and “Upcycling Friendliness” raise the number of options to be productive in your given environment.

Everything durable and supportive is constantly changing and evolving. Make Design open!

Yes. With this Open Design is the opposite of „star design“ or „author design“ where that comes with sophisticated unique shapes and forms, exclusive joining and complex material hybrids. Objects like that resist and undermine many different futures. Or have you ever tried to reuse the poly-curved, multi-material, smartly glued legs of a “high-end” design chair? It is hard to impossible.

This kind of design and approach to it became so popular in the 20st century. But it will not take us well through the 21st century. This is not design for our future. It is unsustainable. It is a dead end.

We need openness and modularity induced network effects (↑) of reuse and reduction in order to create sustainable wealth (↑) and a future that works with and for many and not just a few.

Make Design Open! Re-Open Futures!

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Earlier versions

  • Vs 1.0.PDF (Posted on April 2nd 2020, replaced on May 28 2020 to make the connection to Circular Design stronger)


Deutsche Version

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