Open Source Creativity++ in A Better World by Design
October 13th, 2009

Within the overarching umbrella of social media lives the trend of allowing the community around a service or product participate in its production, from TCHO allowing its “beta testers” to submit feedback on beta versions of its chocolate, and tweaking the recipe accordingly, to Digg allowing its users to vote on news stories and therefore make them more or less prominent, to perhaps the poster child of community-based design, namely Threadless, which allows its community to both submit and vote on the T-shirt designs it manufactures. Handing decision-making power over to the ‘smart mob’ makes sense, and oftentimes cents: who better to judge the quality of a product or service than those who regularly consume it? My latest discovery in this realm, which I learned about at A Better World by Design, a conference co-hosted by Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design from October 2nd-4th in Providence, RI, is Behance Network. Described by its founder Scott Belsky as “community-curated design,” Behance Network allows designers to upload their portfolios, along with vote and comment on each others’ work. The underlying premise is that designers, especially those who work in the same medium, are necessarily qualified to rate each others’ work, and that in turn, being highly rated in the Behance Network bears significance in the world beyond, e.g. to prospective employers and academic institutions.

On the same panel as Belsky, which was called Open Source Creativity, was Ken Banks, who I’ve actually already written about on this blog, as have other Smart Mobs bloggers. Banks described FrontlineSMS, a free open source group text messaging service that doesn’t require web access – an invaluable tool for non-profits and NGO’s working in developing nations. Says Vivian Distler of Institute for the Future, “Congratulations to SMS texting pioneer Ken Banks — mobile health wouldn’t be the same without him!”

The Better by Design conference is in its 2nd year, and dedicated to deepening “our understanding of the power of design, technology, and enterprise to reshape our communities and sustain our environment.” While at the conference, I couldn’t help but imagine all the other disciplines currently hosting similar gatherings: A Better World by Business, A Better World by Agriculture… It appeared that Better x Design is a microcosm of a more systemic development in academia. I remembered the fact that community service is a requirement in most high schools, and began wondering – considering this systemic development towards social responsibility – whether this is the case in any universities, i.e. whether social responsibility is a requirement, and actually incorporated into course curricula. And out of the Twitterverse came my reply: indeed it is. At Babson College in Massachusetts. And lucky for me, I sat next to Babson’s president a few days later at the Business Innovation Factory’s Collaborative Innovation Summit (← more on that forthcoming).

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