Note — Mar 21, 2021

Kits and Revolutions

Seen in → No.165

Source →

Some of the examples in the article might be a bit overstated but I quite like this argument for the importance of kits in developing new lively ecosystems in which innovation and the creation of whole new fields happens. The author goes through examples from steam engines, plains, cars, personal computers, and open hardware with 3D printers and Arduinos. Open source software was not mentioned but, to name one, what is WordPress if not a kit for making websites?

The piece is focused on the emergence of these kits and communities with new technology but there’s also a whole aspect of repairability, spare parts, modifications, and the industrial products becoming platforms for personalization and re-use. Tricked-out cars, early PCs, and even IKEA furniture have seen various appropriations flourish. The current trend of closing-up everything, fighting against right-to-repair, using DRM, and sealing everything in glue (hello Apple!) not only goes counter to previously established rights to really own and tweak the products we buy, but also locks-out creativity and parallel innovation. (From 2012, via Tom Critchlow.)

The proliferation of cheap kits better signals a market sector ripe for revolution than the presence of expensive “cutting-edge” products. […]

Popular open standards and protocols subvert traditional business models, giving rise to global DIY R&D that enjoys far more brainpower than any company department, no many how many hot-shot engineers and designers it has hired. […]

What better instantiates open innovation than a kit, which entwines innovative components, innovative bundling, and, of course, innovative documentation and collaborative support?