A Furniture Designer’s Guide to Open Source Software

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

There’s an interesting debate stirring on the Digital Jersey LinkedIn group, inspired by the launch of the gov.uk site and focused on its extensive use of open source software. This has thrown up issues on Jersey as to a predominance of enterprise sites and software built with proprietary technologies, (mostly Microsoft) versus the perceived risk of going the open source route in terms of lack of an adequate skills base and support.

At the risk of going off on a slight tangent, this whole debate has reminded me of Branchage Bootcamp – a project I was involved with in Jersey 3 or 4 years ago with Channel TV and the Branchage Festival. One of the outcomes of this project was a series of short films made by young, first-time directors in a couple of days and one film in particular stood out for me and is strangely relevant here.

The film was called DIY Culture : Build Your Own Island and featured a local furniture designer, Andrew Garton. The relevance here is that Andrew had an interesting approach. Not only did he design and build bespoke furniture, but he designed and built the machines and parts needed to make the furniture with. The reason for this was two-fold: it started because he couldn’t get the parts he needed on the island, but – more importantly – he believed very strongly that the machines, parts and tools we use inevitably end up shaping the output. Or, to put it another way, factory-made machines and parts produce factory-like goods. So by designing and building his own tools and machines, Andrew found he could produce more elegant and efficient solutions to the design problems he was facing.

The point here is that businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes – from small independents to big business or even complex organisations like the UK government – face increasingly complex service and product design challenges in a rapidly-evolving world. Meeting these challenges requires a similarly rapidly-evolving response and toolset – which is why the use of open source software is growing exponentially. Does Jersey currently have such a varied and flexible toolset? Arguably, no. But that’s where Andrew Garton’s other core belief has relevance too;

“If you don’t quite like the way things are where you live you can move away somewhere else, or you can try and stay there and try and make them be a bit more like you think they should be”.

This is a challenge in itself, but one worth grasping. Incidentally, Andrew’s furniture is really quite beautiful.

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