Massimo Banzi is the co-founder of the Arduino project and has worked on many interaction design projects for clients such as: Prada, Artemide, Persol, Whirlpool, V&A Museum and Adidas.
He spent four years at the Interaction Design Institue Ivrea as Associate Professor. Banzi has taught workshops and presented at institutions like: Architectural Association - London, Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst Basel, Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd, FH Potsdam, Domus Academy, Medialab Madrid, Escola Superior de Disseny Barcelona, ARS Electronica Linz, Mediamatic Amsterdam, Doors of Perception.
Currently, together with this partner Gianluca Martino, Banzi is continuing to innovate the Arduino. The idea behind it started from a concept for a platform that would be cheap and easy to use for their students (Banzi’s and Gianluca’s), and something that they could even build themselves if they wanted. From a small group of individual trying out something, the platform has become a tool that fosters community, definitely taking the concept of open-source hardware into new heights.
Community Development and Community Support for Arduino
When asked about the degree to which a quote from Daniel Joliffe from Make magazine still holds true, Banzi reaffirms that it is true but they were not expecting to see an instant manifestation of what Arduino would become. It continually grows as it is completely open source.
quote from Danielle Joliffe: "The original intention of the Arduino Project was to see what would happen if community support were substituted for the corporate support which is usually required for electronics development."
“The Arduino team is made up of five people, from effectively five slightly different backgrounds. So each one brings a piece to the whole system, and I think Arduino is successful at what it does because of this combination. You take out one of the five elements and the whole system doesn’t work.”
The idea (of the Arduino project) started from a concept for a platform that would be cheap and easy to use for their students (Banzi’s and Gianluca’s), and something that they could even build themselves if they wanted. So, the first step was to get rid of the 'basic stuff'. Then, they realized that the success was based on building up a community in such a way that it organizes itself in a tiered-system – if one person doesn’t know the answer, another person tries, and so on until both Banzi and Gianluca need to come in the picture.
They won themselves a prize from ARS Electronica for placing great importance to this digital community.
Designers and Open Source
Speaking from his own personal experience, Banzi finds that the two worlds come from entirely opposite points of view. "They (designers) would resist very much publishing anything that wasn’t finished or sleek, and that’s the complete opposite of open source. Open source means, I’ve developed this code, I’ve developed this hardware, and I’m going to give it to you, and you do something with it, and you give it back to me after you’ve fixed it. And, if enough people is working on it… then it would be similar to hundreds and thousands of people polishing a sculpture. Everybody’s got a bit of a sand paper, and together they make a beautiful thing, it’s a group effort.”
Issues Arising with the Idea of Open Source
There are two sides to look at with regards to some issues arising with the idea of open source, the hardware, and the software. With software, since it can easily be available to anyone through downloading, profit is not expected to be substantial. While in hardware, even though there is money being made the problem lies in manufacturing, "not everybody who uses the hardware is also in the position of manufacturing it." Given this type of scenario, their strategy is to always try to keep the costs down for most of the boards. What helps them in accomplishing this is the way they reinvest their money on constantly redeveloping the boards that they produce in order to utilize them more efficiently, "this way, if we now manufacture 10,000 boards we can squeeze more functionality, and more stuff, and more goodness into the same piece.” Consequently, this guarantees that they are always giving something back to the community.
Unfortunately, a downside of the boards being affordable is, "there are a number of people who are now showing up on the scene that basically wants to exploit the situation. They want to manufacture the boards and sell them for their complete profit using the Arduino name with the excuse that it's open source without any contribution being given in return to the larger community."
Competition and Constant Innovation
“The world of Italy, it’s a bit ruthless.” Banzi shares to us a scenario that is indeed happening where young designers have a difficult time entering the industry, "there are some companies that are well known for, you’re a young designer, you show them this object, they say ‘we’re not interested’, and then in three months there’s a product that comes out that's essentially the same. A lot of young designers are being screwed like that by companies in Italy. It’s a bit of a ruthless market. So, clearly they got to understand, ‘why would somebody do that?’"
In parallel, there is also competition in Arduino and the key is to constantly innovate to stay ahead of the pack. "The competition can only download the files, and manufacture the boards but they don’t get the edge. They can copy my circuit but I’m the one who came up with this idea of making them, I can come up with many different ideas, and I can just keep on (doing it). He tells us a strategy wherein they analyze technology from the design point of view, "from the eyes of Italian design" to come up with new application for already existing materials.
Made in Italy
"One of the things that we push is to put ‘Made in Italy’ everywhere." It is a guarantee to everyone that what they are getting is made with top quality and is designed the right way by people who are well taken cared of.
With this action, they also wanted to emphasize their switch to producing lead-free products, addressing the issue of sustainability.
- Quality is all about the details, down to the smallest ones. "It’s about getting what you want, the way you want it."
The Education System in Italy
One of the problems Banzi sees in the classic academic system in Italy is, the older departments tend to be quite exclusive. He compares the system to that of some private schools, which tend to expand their contacts.
He continues on to say that students need more hands-on experience through skill-based courses to help them understand how things are being constructed. "Design schools are a result of people breaking off like the Napa design school, the Domus Academy… back in the days, design was part of the architecture."
Strength of Italian Design
A lot of products that come out of Italian Design have a strong personality that reflects the personality of the designers." Banzi says that this is done very effectively so that people perceive them very well.
Timeless or Classic Device Using Computing Technology
"In a way, everything that has technology inside can’t be timeless because they constantly change through time, and very quickly. Another problem is that parts become lost or hard to find over time." He gives the Gameboy as an example of a timeless piece of design, but at the same time it is regarded to be out-dated because when you compare it to the latest ones that have come out are are continually being developed, the newer ones have lesser parts.
“Technology tends to show its age really quickly.”
The Horizon for Interaction Design, Italian Design, and Arduino
Interaction Design - The expectation is to have ID schools. "Interaction Design will become so obvious that it will be part of the classic design process, ubiquitous."
Italian Design - It will be up to the younger generation to constantly come up with innovative designs. The full grasp on the concept of globalization is also a very important concern in order to stay competitive. Furthermore he adds, "Milan, an expensive city to live in, needs to explode and unlock the issues so it can reinvent itself.
- Arduino - Primarily, the focus is to improve the platform because the product that they have now is going to reach a level of maturity. What it needs is stability while keeping it simple and cheap. As well, an idea they are trying to tap onto is having some parts not completely open-source.
- Arduino as a Community
- Arduino's Educational Model
- Design Perspective in Arduino
- Education System in Italy
- Innovation and Competition
- Issue with Open Source
- Made in Italy
- Definition of Open Source
- Quality Level of Arduino
What We Learned
Massimo Banzi was one of the few designers we visited whose main focus is specifically Interaction Design. Banzi and the Arduino team developed the Adruino initially as a tool for education, helping his students to realize interactions that would otherwise not have been possible.Constant innovation in the way of quick prototype turnover and fast code iteration drives open source projects, and these principles can be applied to Interaction Design. Banzi refers to trust when talking with clients, by bringing prototypes and showing what can be done rather than just telling them what could be. People are the strength of the Arduino, the community and the many helping hands model. When one person builds an innovative project, it gets folded back into the community, and it can be built on, creating more