[openmoko-announce] Openmoko on Design

Sean Moss-Pultz sean at openmoko.com
Mon Jul 28 20:22:18 CEST 2008

Dear Community


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 

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.


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