OpenDesk is from the group of designers behind WikiHouse. While their initial project was an open hardware shelter this second project grows out of insights from the first. How could designs of a product get made for people who wanted them? Specifically, how could furniture by designers be produced for customers by a local fabricator? The answer lay in piecing together the self-interests of the players.
Using FabHub the folks of OpenDesk build a database of fabricators. In great detail they learn their capabilities. What exactly can they do? Can they CNC mill? Wood? Metal? What file types do they work with? Will they assemble? Where are they located and from how far away will they take orders? These are just a few examples of what is learned about each fabricator so they know what type of work can be sent their way.
The next piece of the puzzle is at OpenDesk which brings designers and customers together while tapping FabHub through an API. Designers provide designs, specify requirements, and define deal terms. Customers can browse designs, select from a variety of options and fabricators and get quotes for their custom order. Everyone gets what they want including OpenDesk who participates in the transaction. Curation by OpenDesk and reputation ratings from the community will be used to ensure quality.
To make this business model work will take careful balancing but OpenDesk could get it right. Presently the options are limited to CNC milling of furniture from a few designers and a few fabricators. However each of these is growing. CNC milling will expand to include laser cutting, 3D printing and more. As news of OpenDesk’s success grows so too will be the number of designers and fabricators. The result could be a new online marketplace of custom designs fabricated locally to customer specifications. Pretty sweet.