British Council Creative Economy

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Avril O’Neil

How open source technology helps innovation

Safeguarding intellectual property is the number one rule for most creative businesses, but sometimes the free exchange of ideas and skills – open-sourcing – helps entrepreneurs to refine and develop their ideas much more quickly than if they worked in total isolation.

My business partner and I have worked in the creative and technology industries for the last 10 years and in that time have noticed a shift away from secrecy and keeping ideas locked away for years until you're ready to unveil your creation. A lot of our work uses open source technology and this openness is what allows new ideas to be born. This is particularly prevalent in technology, with platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi, but also finds its way into design with companies such as OpenDesk, a business that releases plans for its furniture online, allowing anyone to customise them and then have them manufactured locally. Our ‘Ding’ Smart Doorbell is a product of this openness. We've educated ourselves using open source technology and applied it to a simple problem. As designers this is essential so that we can prototype people’s ideas and test them quickly. Alongside open-source electronics we also use a lot of rapid prototyping and 3D printing, which allows us to quickly build new prototypes and test them as projects develop. 

This access to technology and prototyping tools allows people to be creative in their use of knowledge of and be supported by a whole community. It allows you to build your idea quickly, without investing lots of time and money and without having to study for years to be an engineer or a programmer yourself.  As the barrier to entry is lowered, the real focus of products will shift from being technology driven, to being led by the design approach and experience of products. This is the same with our product, which is more about the people who use it rather than being led by technology inside. 

The ‘Ding’ is a smart doorbell. When someone comes to your home and rings the doorbell, a chime rings in your home but it also extends the alert to your phone, allowing you to talk with the person at your front door from wherever you are in the world. We were able to develop this concept following our success in the first wave of a UK Design Council programme called Spark, an innovation fund to help fast track products to market.

Avril O’Neil

Avril O’Neil is creative director and co-founder of Ding Labs and ONN Studio

Ding, the smart doorbell that connects your home to your phone, is the brainchild of Avril O’Neil and John Nussey. In 2015, they were selected to take part in Design Council Spark, a unique innovation fund and support programme designed to fast-track products to market in the UK. Eight product inventors were invited on the 20 week fast track programme, from which three finalists were awarded a share of £150,000. Ding was one of those.