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Democratizing Design

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Throughout the industrial age, product innovation has largely happened in organizations such as corporations, universities, or government labs. In Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel discusses a gradual transition from organizations to individuals as a significant source of innovation.

Institutions with significant financial resources still have a strong advantage over individuals in the area of product design.

While product innovation is a complex process, it has four fundamental ingredients: 1) a practical need; 2) access to published technical information; 3) unpublished knowledge (knowhow); 4) other resources (physical, material, or financial).

Until the end of the 20th century, individuals had the practical needs but they did not have easy access to the other ingredients necessary for product innovation. The Internet made it possible to democratize innovation by eliminating barriers and reducing costs for access to information, expertise, and resources. Communities of like-minded individuals provided the last piece of the puzzle: access to unpublished knowhow and experience. The end result is a cataclysmic shift in the innovation economy, evidenced by new innovation hubs such as Local Motors for design and fabrication of unique motor vehicles, Quirky for collaborative product innovation, Maker Faires, and TechShops.

Design is an important step in product innovation. It is an elaborate process that involves requirements definition, design space exploration, concept generation, conceptual design, modeling, simulation, detailed 3D design, and detailed analysis. Unfortunately, it is difficult to level the playing field in design and make it easily accessible to individuals. Traditional design tools are expensive, cumbersome to deploy, difficult to learn and use, and not quite suitable for collaboration.

Institutions with significant financial resources still have a strong advantage over individuals in the area of product design. We intend to change that.

We founded CyDesign Labs to democratize the design of complex systems. Our core product, CyDesign Studio, is an easy to use, affordable, and powerful tool suite for design that is available to individuals as well as established organizations. With CyDesign Studio, we aim to address the fundamental ingredients of design innovation:

Practical need: a comprehensive requirements management tool allows the design engineer to capture product requirements and to associate requirements with system designs.

Access to published technical information: pre-defined libraries of common off-the-shelf component models facilitate the composition of functional and behavioral models of complex systems, obviating the need to develop system models from scratch.

Access to knowhow: A design grammar  encodes the basic rules of design for each application domain, making it easier to design fully-functional systems without an expert-level understanding of the field. In addition, integrated collaboration functions facilitate access to expertise across institutional borders.

Resource availability: The combination of instant availability, browser-based access, and usage-based pricing helps organizations and individuals to minimize the upfront capital investment in design tools and be productive right away. Furthermore, our tools allow designers to explore the design space thoroughly and verify system performance before detailed design and prototyping, thus helping further conserve financial resources.

With sophisticated design tools available to anyone without restrictions or a significant financial commitment, the possibilities will be endless. 2013 promises to be an interesting year for further democratization of innovation, with the commercial launch of the first tool that aims to democratize product design.

Watch this space.

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