Open source software is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone for any purpose. Open source software may be developed in a collaborative public manor.
What if we developed our workplace furniture the same way? So many companies are trying to solve the same problems. How do we make our desks better for employees, how do we improve the chairs they use, how do we make conference room tables better (cable management, point of sight, etc)? What this results in is everyone creating a random half solution and only solving part of the problem. How can we use the OSS model to drive better solutions in shorter periods of time? My thought process on how we can achieve this is as follows.
1. Select a furniture partner who’s willing to create a custom solution with you and works with many other similar companies.
This first step is truly important. There are many furniture dealers in the world, and not all of them want to be involved in custom solutions work. Many of them just want to provide the systems that they have always offered from their major partner (i.e. Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth, Knoll, etc etc etc). However, a good furniture partner will be willing to create custom solutions for you. You also want them to be working with companies who are scaling or building offices at the same pace you are. That will result in more iterations on your initial design, faster! The next step is setting up a session with your furniture partner and their industrial design partner.
2. Identify what solutions you need, what parameters they need to meet, and how much you want to spend.
Let us say for example, you want to create a better workstation solution for your team. Your goals are to save money, improve ergonomics, and have something that can be rearranged by employees. Once you sit down with your furniture partner and their designer, they will be able to take these parameters and create a first round of a solution for you. Once you go through this phase and create a base prototype solution, and then a few more iterations of design to get your initial product, you can then create your first version, “V1.” You will likely want to create a physical prototype, to work out the final kinks, and then order a true set of the V1.
3. Order Your Initial Product and Allow Your Furnituref Partner to Use The Design For Other Companies
This step is crucial. You will have given your furniture partner permission to use the design you created, V1, for other clients. Those companies can then take the V1 edition and customize it, and make iterations of it. Each time the product will improve, and each time there will be something added that you might not even have known you needed to solve for yet. Depending on how many companies your furniture partner is working with, this can really speed things up.
4. Try out V4
If your furniture partner is doing a lot of projects (lets say each one takes 4 months) and they did 3 versions of this system in a year, you should end up with your V4 the following year. V4 might look mostly like what you initially created, but it will have gone through many functional iterations since you began your efforts. Enjoy the fruits of the thought / design processes of others!
Shorten the Process
Typically this kind of process would take a much longer time. Companies spend years sweating over the details of a furniture system. They do focus groups, committee meetings, more focus groups, surveys, testing, and other methodologies to get a “perfect product.” However, many of these still only meet some of the criteria for a client. You will wind up mashing together systems that aren’t from the same company just to meet the base needs of your teams. By short circuiting this process, you can get a better product in a shorter period of time, and everyone benefits from the design processes of eachother.