Can open source sharing unlock design innovation?

A good idea will often be held by one person and developed and designed accordingly. Even those within big corporations may find themselves working in a team of one. While there are certainly merits in letting an individual imagination run free, true design innovation is more easily unlocked through collaboration.

However, what if there’s no one like minded in the same company, or even in a similar place geographically? Well, that’s where open source file sharing can help. In the computer-aided design (CAD) space, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the nuances of a project.

Sharing ideas can help unlock paths for a design that may have been hard to see before.

A world of collaboration

Using the internet, it’s possible to allow designers from all around the world access to ideas, and potentially improve them. Naturally, there are considerations when it comes to intellectual property, especially when designing and creating products for a specific company.

However, sharing ideas can really help unlock paths for a design that may have been hard to see at first. Research collated by ZDNet suggested there are business benefits, too. Rather than have one designer toil away for months, and spend a considerable amount of money on research and development, garnering the feedback from the wider community can limit overall spending.


PC World agreed with this notion, finding that there not only cost savings to be had, but the quality of the end product can be bettered, too.

Open source creations

While companies may want to consider the benefits of open source, is it actually helping designers think differently? Well, one example from Dutch artist Mathijs van Oosterhoudt has shown just how creative open source products can be.

He came up with his idea for a unique camera when exploring how the designs for the devices are relatively uniform, despite housing complex technology. In trying to flip this convention on its head, Mr Oosterhoudt attempted to create a product that’s not only usable, but also easy to personalise, improve and adapt.

“While many people own a camera or have the option to buy one, the choices made by commercial camera companies might not always be ones we would want or desire. Over the ages cameras have gone from something as simple as a sliding box to an electronic maze, impenetrable for anyone who wishes it was different and offering no way of alteration,” he explained on the project’s website.

The Focal Camera, to give the device its full name, started life as a mass of CAD design files. The body itself is relatively rudimentary, consisting of little more than a cube that connects to other parts of the design.


That’s where the unit’s most innovative feature comes in: It is completely modular. That, twinned with the open source nature of the design files, allows anyone interested in building their own version of the camera to have a huge say in what it’ll look like.

The camera can even use existing lenses, both modern and vintage, to produce truly unique shots. Ultimately, anyone who has tried to buy a modern SLR camera will appreciate the costs involved of not only the unit, but also the myriad accessories and lenses.

What Mr Oosterhoudt has tried to do, is take a complex product and make it accessible.

Sharing ideas across a like-minded network is one of the advantages of the open source way of thinking.Sharing ideas across a like-minded network is one of the advantages of the open source way of thinking.

Balancing accessibility and usability

Naturally, there are some drawbacks to The Focal Camera design. The 3 millimetre wood it uses is not completely opaque, which means that light leaks into the internal workings of the mechanism and film.

This can distort the end pictures, though it can easily be solved by applying black tape around all the joints and connections of the modules. This is particularly ungainly, but the nature of open source design is likely to find a solution to this issue.

In time, as the CAD files are shared and more module ideas produced, The Focal Camera will be improved by its users.

Adopting the open source mentality can unlock unique ideas and designs.

Building a design dialogue

This practice can apply to any product. All designers, whether they are operating on an individual basis or within a larger company, should welcome feedback from users. Open source designs – rather than wait until the product is produced – build in this dialogue during the conception phase.

The Focal Camera’s design today may not be optimal. However, over time, it is likely to become a much more accomplished product as its user base identifies where and how it needs to be bettered, and actually get on with doing it.

The design space has to be creative by nature, and there’s little point in trying to stifle innovation. Fortunately, adopting the open source mentality and being ready and able to embrace collaboration can unlock ideas and designs that simply wouldn’t have been possible via conventional means.

Designing or manufacturing in Asia Pacific? Contact us at SOLIDWORKS to see how we can help inspire engineering innovation and improve every aspect of your product development.