This article was written by Jeremy Faludi in November 2006. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
The folks over at Make magazine have published a Maker's Bill of Rights to demand hackability in products. Interestingly, the things that make a device hackable are the same things that make a device repairable and upgradeable, so design-for-hacking is also green design.
Their "Maker's Bill Of Rights" is as follows:
Meaningful and specific parts lists shall be included.
Cases shall be easy to open.
Batteries should be replaceable.
Special tools are allowed only for darn good reasons.
Profiting by selling expensive special tools is wrong and not making special tools available is even worse.
Torx is OK; tamperproof is rarely OK.
Components, not entire sub-assemblies, shall be replaceable.
Consumables, like fuses and filters, shall be easy to access.
Circuit boards shall be commented.
Power from USB is good; power from proprietary power adapters is bad.
Standard connecters shall have pinouts defined.
If it snaps shut, it shall snap open.
Screws better than glues.
Docs and drivers shall have permalinks and shall reside for all perpetuity at archive.org.
Ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought.
Metric or standard, not both.
Schematics shall be included.
(I recommend reading the full post at Make, because there's a whole bunch of good feedback from readers below the article.)
Some of these requirements are nearly word-for-word from green design certification standards like EPEAT. For instance, EPEAT point #18.104.22.168 (required for certification) is "External enclosures shall be easily removable by one person alone with commonly available tools." Point #22.214.171.124 (required for certification) is "Product shall be upgradeable with commonly available tools." Point #126.96.36.199 (an optional point) is "Plastic enclosures shall not contain molded-in or glued-on metal unless metal inserts are easy to remove by one person alone with commonly available tools." (i.e. screws are better than glues.) I could go on.
Why is design for hackability the same as design for long lifetime? Because the things a hacker wants to do to a device today (add memory, storage, or faster processing, or peripheral extensions) are the same things required to keep a device from getting obsolete years from now (when it will have to be faster / have more storage / connect to peripheral X, just to stay useable.) Many devices have proven useful long past their original lifetimes--the Beowulf project has used old 486 and Pentium I computers (junk to any modern computer user; obsolete nearly ten years ago) to create "a computer which can operate in the gigaflop range" (better than all but the highest-end personal computers available today).
Design for hackability is also green design because when a device dies, it's usually just one part dying before the rest. How many times have you had the batteries die in a device (which, in most models of Apple's iPod, are not replaceable)? Or had your cell phone's screen break while the phone itself still functioned? When I was in college I worked in computer hardware repair, and often a "dead" machine merely had a bad power supply which could be fixed by replacing a 10-cent resistor, if you knew enough about the machine to determine which resistor was bad. If every product came with schematics and manuals archived in perpetuity, as Make's list suggests, any home user could get this knowledge and potentially save their device from the grave if they're geek enough.
So let's hear it for the Maker's Bill Of Rights, and hope more companies open their products up to hackability and life-extension.
The Maker's Bill Of Rights is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.
Image credit: Flickr user oskay, Creative Commons License