Openmoko on Design

Alex Kavanagh alex at
Mon Jul 28 21:46:18 CEST 2008

Thanks for an excellent post.  It gives me an even better insight into
OpenMoko's vision.

Thanks for all of the hard work!


Sean Moss-Pultz wrote, On 28/07/08 19:22:
> Dear Community
> Design.
> Many people seem to expect an explanation of "design" from Openmoko. 
> This isn't going to happen. At least not today. Design isn't something 
> static that I can stop and say here is exactly what Openmoko wants. 1+1 
> = 2. We try not to talk so much about features or design styles of 
> future products. For the simple reason that we’re not so sure what they 
> will look like ourselves. Design, for us, is the process in which we 
> start by pursuing a few essential ideas and allow for the final result 
> to come into being. Notice that I am not talking about moving pixels. 
> Nor I'm not talking about colors or fonts. Design, in my opinion, is not 
> about technical skill. It's about personal struggle. It's the process by 
> which you relentlessly force yourself to focus on exposing your 
> essential ideas. This cannot be patched and merged like source codes. 
> Imagine Malevich and Monet each painting half of the same painting. The 
> result would surely depress them both. Being open doesn't mean we put 
> the essential ideas behind each product to a public vote. Being open 
> means we provide you with the tools to change our decisions.
> Like anything highly creative, design is always highly subjective. Even 
> if I would explain the essential ideas of our products to everyone, they 
> would not make sense in the way I want them to. Because you are only 
> seeing one part of a very intricate long-term plan. You would need to 
> work with us, full time, for many months before Openmoko's vision would 
> really make sense. I can only show you the tangible pieces -- products. 
> Our company is open. You are always invited into this space. Don't 
> forget you are watching serious people work their ass' off. We are 
> mechanics and will certainly yell, "Fuck!" when we smash our fingers or 
> break things. All engineering is public from day one. It is humanly 
> impossible for us not to show you things that are unfinished, 
> inaccurate, flawed, and even self-destructive at times. But we have 
> faith in what we're doing. Openness is our foundation. It's not a 
> marketing buzzword. So my only question for you is, "Do you want to 
> watch, or help?". Because if you want to just stand around and criticize 
> our work, I will have to ask you to leave the shop. People are working 
> here. We're trying to "Free your Phone". Stop bashing things like ASU. 
> This is our work and we are in the earliest of stages. We want to share 
> it with you. Understand that we are not even close to satisfied with it 
> in its current state. But we can see the direction and we love how it's 
> coming together. This is the design process in full effect.
> Think of our products as museums. We're building the environment. Each 
> one different from the next. You'll get all the free art supplies you 
> could imagine because we want you to add your own meaning. You choose: 
> consume, create, or both. Either way you create your own meaning. It's 
> about you. Our design is more like non-design. We try to "remove" 
> anything obvious. And focus on what's meaningful. We're not trying to 
> launch a carefully crafted message with a bling-filled user interface. 
> We're building an empty vessel for you to fill with your ideas. We focus 
> on making products that are open and simple. Only products that are open 
> can grow as you grow. Only something simple can be used by everyone.
> My mom can install Firefox plugins. Can your mom personalize your 
> FreeRunner?
> Like Will already said, by removing a manual keyboard button we are 
> forced to self-organize using the resources in our environment. 
> Resources such as our wiki and our Installer are still badly broken. We 
> need to fix these. We need to make them accessible for "normal people". 
> Every element "removed" is a chance to organize information in ways that 
> are meaningful for others. Whether you like our design or not isn't even 
> the question. You have all the tools you could possibly want to change it.
> At Openmoko, we're trying as hard as we can to not over design. Could 
> you imagine walking into a museum where the museum itself looked better 
> than the artwork? We're trying to give you the environment to 
> self-organize. Your code. Your ideas. Your emotions. And then share them 
> back with others. The entire point of our "Installer" is to provide a 
> simple way to bring the excitement and energy of our community into the 
> Neos of normal people. Why else would we invest so much time and money 
> into things like our framework? Or even the little things like opening 
> our CAD files and our schematics? We're building you a museum to 
> showcase the wonderful diversity of this community. It's a foundation 
> for you to stand on. We want your applications. Your ideas in the form 
> of packages of what the buttons can do. Change anything you want to our 
> interface and we will gladly deliver it to everyone. Your music for 
> sound events. Your themes. Speak with your work, not so much with your 
> emails. Let's organize the best parts of mobile FOSS as packages easily 
> installable for the world. We're not going to build yet another App Store.
> We must end these unproductive arguments about whose design ideas are 
> better. Should the keyboard be manual or automatic -- this so misses the 
> point of Openmoko! The "killer app" of tomorrow is not going to be 
> software or some hardware device. It's going to be the social practices 
> they make possible.
> We each have our own ways of understanding and making meanings. You are 
> free to create your own meanings. Organize your ideas into our wiki and 
> our Installer. Make a package that somebody can easily install for a 
> manual keyboard. Show people the power of open. Let them make their own 
> meanings. For if we cannot organize our ideas in ways non-developers can 
> understand, why even bother? Why struggle so hard to make totally open 
> devices when you can already download thousands of random hacks and 
> applications for an iPhone?
> This is Openmoko. We are different. We are open to life. We are never 
> closed, perfect or complete. We embrace diversity. Open means we are 
> free to change the fundamental way information is processed in the 
> mobile world. Let's do this!
> Now is the time for our work to speak for itself. I'm out of words.
>    -Sean
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Alex Kavanagh
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