Design patterns for society

April 1, 2009

Wired has a great piece on the new trend of Hacker Spaces (via Boing Boing) communities of makers and hackers pitching in to create a space with the equipment that would be difficult for an individual to afford and make the most of:

There are now 96 known active hacker spaces worldwide, with 29 in the United States,  according to Another 27 U.S. spaces are in the planning or building stage.

Located in rented studios, lofts or semi-commercial spaces, hacker spaces tend to be loosely organized, governed by consensus, and infused with an almost utopian spirit of cooperation and sharing.

“It’s almost a Fight Club for nerds,” says Nick Bilton of his hacker space, NYC Resistor in Brooklyn, New York. Bilton is an editor in The New York Times R&D lab and a board member of NYC Resistor. Bilton says NYC Resistor has attracted “a pretty wide variety of people, but definitely all geeks. Not Dungeons & Dragons–type geeks, but more professional, working-type geeks.”

For many members, the spaces have become a major focus of their evening and weekend social lives.

Pretty cool. There’s an interesting detail in the piece about what has catalysed these Hacker Spaces:

The recent crop of hacker spaces has followed a rough blueprint prepared by Jens Ohlig called “Building a Hacker Space” (.pdf). Ohlig’s presentation is a collection of design patterns, or solutions to common problems, and outlines some of the best practices used by German and Austrian hacker spaces.

Design patterns are self contained best practices for solving specific problems, whose invention is credited to the architect Christopher Alexander. The idea is simple: even a complex design problem with no obvious solution is likely to be composed of many smaller elements which have been tackled before.

Christopher Alexander, an architect and author, coined the term pattern language. He used it to refer to common problems of civil and architectural design, from how cities should be laid out to where windows should be placed in a room. The idea was initially popularized in his book A Pattern Language.

Alexander’s book The Timeless Way of Building describes what he means by pattern language and how it applies to the design and construction of buildings and towns. However, the system has been used in many fields of design, from designing computer programs to designing a classroom curriculum.

When a designer is designing something (whether it is a house or a computer program or a stapler), they must make many decisions about how to solve problems. A single problem, documented with its most common and recognized good solution seen in the wild, is a single design pattern. Each pattern has a name, a descriptive entry, and some cross-references, much like a dictionary entry. A documented pattern must also explain why that solution may be considered a good one for that problem, in the given context. (Wikpedia)

Design patterns are ubiquitous and will be discussed again in more detail – for now it’s well worth checking out Jens Ohlig’s presentation for an example of the patterns you might use to design a successful community over and over again.


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One Response to “Design patterns for society”

  1. […] project’s findings should be fascinating. Hopefully, the outcome will be a set of concrete design patterns which city planners can start using to improve the lives of their citizens while reducing the […]

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