Question: What are design guidelines or constraints we aspire to at Public Lab?

warren is asking a question about kits
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by warren | November 17, 2017 20:48 | #15202

It's easy to be at cross-purposes when collaborating if you don't have the same assumptions about the limits you're designing within. At Public Lab, we encourage accessibility and equity in projects. But how does this more specifically guide our design work?

We often work to ensure:

  • low cost
  • low complexity
  • newcomer-friendly
  • easily reproducible (Do-It-Yourself, open source)
  • easily modifiable

But what else? And what are strategies to better embody these values when we build things?


I love this page on the CLEAR website, posted by @maxliboiron:

CLEAR is dedicated to the principle of equity. Equity recognizes that people start from different social, economic, educational, and political positions, and works to account for those differences. This means that when we design scientific instruments, we think of about other users as scientists with degrees in well-funded institutions, but also, and more importantly, rural Newfoundlanders, who also have research questions and a right to answer them. To this end, we have several guidelines for how we design and build our tools. Our technologies are characterized by the following:

  • Open source & online

  • Can be built and used by accredited and citizen scientists

  • Cost less than $50 to make

  • Made of materials you can get in rural Newfoundland

  • Repairable yourself, with local materials

  • No plastics

(there's more detail on the post itself -- read the whole thing!)

These resonate strongly with me, and I especially appreciate the articulation of equity and its relationship to material design choices.

We've often made choices (such as a DVD in our spectrometry kits of using every-day, easy to find materials so as not to bottleneck or limit peoples' ability to reproduce designs, and are trying to do this in terms of means of production as well. For example, there are great opportunities to lasercut or 3d-print things, but who has access to those tools? Is there an alternative way around them if they're not available?

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