Should Open-Source Technology be used in Design Education?

Should Open-Source Technology be used in Design Education?

Tom Page (Loughborough Design School, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJOSSP.2015010102

Abstract

There has been some argument as to the legitimacy of the use of open-source technology (OST) in product design and manufacturing. Much of this has focused on intellectual property rights of the designer in the use of open-source software (OSS) and open-source hardware (OSH). Furthermore, in design education the question as to whether product design and industrial design students should learn to use open-source technology has been widely asked. This research addresses this question and considers commercial and non-commercial applications of open-source technology. The research methods comprised interviews and questionnaire survey with practicing designers and design students. The findings were analysed and discussed in relation to the growth in the application of open-source technology in commercial and educational settings.
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1. Introduction

There has been some argument as to the legitimacy of the use of open-source technology (OST) in industrial and product design education. Much of this debate has centred around intellectual property rights of the designer in using of open-source software (OSS) and open-source hardware (OSH). Furthermore, in design education the question as to whether industrial and product design students should learn to use open-source technology has been widely asked.

The aim of this research was to investigate whether product and industrial design students should learn to use open-source technology as part of their undergraduate studies. This work considers the recent growth in the application of OST in product design and manufacturing and its role within industrial and product design education. The objectives of this research were to:

  • Chart the extent to which open-source technologies have emerged over the last 15 years;

  • Identify the extent to which product development is enabling users to economically create and manufacture (some of) their own products at home;

  • Identify the extent that open-source technologies affect the accessibility of the skills and tooling required to engage in industrial and product design education in non-commercial environments.

The research methods comprised interviews and questionnaire survey with practicing designers and design students. The findings were analysed and discussed in relation to the growth in the application of open-source technology in commercial and educational settings.

2. Open-Source Software (Oss) And Open-Source Hardware (Osh)

The term “open-source technology” represents of two main categories of technology: open-source software and open-source hardware. Software refers to a “set of instructions executed by a computer” whilst hardware is “the physical device on which software [is executed]” (Muffatto, 2006, p. 24). The majority of software falls within application software or system software. Application software refers to the programs that a user runs on a device such Microsoft Word, iTunes, Internet Explorer, whilst system software refers to the instructions that allow the system to function such as operating systems such as Microsoft windows, Apple OS(X), BIOS, and in turn run application software. Application software is the focus of research and discussion over system software; it holds more relevance to the OS movement and product design and manufacturing. The definition becomes more complex when we include “open-source” to the title. A common definition of open-source (Weber, 2004) comprises of three main focal points: source-code is distributed with the software or made available for an equal cost; the software may be redistributed by anyone- inferring no income/fees to the author; and the software may be modified by anyone, and then redistributed under the same principle.

In essence open-source software products are generally free of charge, and have the files with their code/structure available so that they may be modified and customised (Beaver, 2004). Open-source hardware incurs unavoidable cost in materials and manufacturing and as such, the cost of this must be reimbursed. Free software is a term which many people believe is interchangeable with open-source; however, there are subtle differences as it does not necessarily refer to free-of-charge. The most important difference is that the OSS movement allows the user to modify the code, and can then publish it under a different license to make it private. Free software requires any modification of the source-code to be licensed under the GNU General Public Licence, and therefore retain its free to modify status. In the same principle as open-source software, open-source hardware must have the hardware design available; this might include printed circuit board layouts, mechanical drawings and other such product design and manufacture documentation.

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