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Featured Ideator: James McBennett

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London-based James McBennett is passionate about collaborative production. He sees the digitisation of both product design and the machines of production to be changing how products are made and distributed – moving away from mass-production towards mass-customisation. His current strides in this territory is as co-founder of Fabsie. A seasoned OpenIDEO collaborator, James' Founders Dictionary concept was a winner on our Web Start-up Challenge. At heart, he is a proud generalist interested in how both design and startup culture are changing disciplines to which they have not previously applied. James has travelled extensively and has previously lived in Dublin, Riyadh, Copenhagen and Rotterdam.
What first drew you to get involved in OpenIDEO?
Coming from a dogmatic architectural training that solves problems in a very different way to that of the OpenIDEO community, the human-centred design approach immediately resonated with me. Impressed by the level of responses from the existing community at that time helped push me from an observer to a contributor. I initially came to learn about design thinking in isolation to my architecture studies – but found that they were inseparable once I got started.
And how's the ride been so far?
I am constantly learning as I participate on the site, of which I appreciate lifelong learning as necessary in today's fast-paced world. My OpenIDEO DQ says I've been strongest in Inspiration and Collaboration which is most likely the result of watching a few too many TED talks. The highlights for me have been connecting with other like minded OpenIDEATORS at the recent Make-a-thon held at IDEO London and the trip to Brussels for the Eurpoean Commission Digital Agenda Assembly with the winners of the OpenIDEO Web Start-up Challenge last year.
Can you tell us a bit about your collaborative approach with Fabsie?
"In the 20th century, companies made you want products, but in the 21st century, companies will make products you want." Today, designers make mass-products that fit the average person, a complete disconnect to how things were made in pre-industrial eras. The average person of the industrial economy does not exist and the technology of today no longer favours repetition as industrial assembly lines once did. Fabsie is focused on furniture, using digital methods to bring designers, bringing makers and consumers closer together to collaborate on products which you can't find elsewhere. We started with a rocking stool on Kickstarter and hope to open the platform creating trust between designers who can upload their CAD files, makers who can download them and consumers who can purchase them. Next up is a standing desk for those who like to stand while working.
And what about your thoughts on designers + entrepreneurship?
Prototyping is favoured over planning at the early stages of growing a startup due to fast feedback – a technique native to most designers. In the past, business people hired designers and programmers to build their vision – but today, investors are backing those designers and programmers who can build their own vision and adapt more quickly as they have the skills to do so. I think designers need the confidence to know they can lead a startup of which the Designers Fund in the US helps establish.
What are your future plans around design + social impact?
It feels like the world is currently shaped by social enterprise on one hand and greedy capitalists on the other. Going forward I see much more activity in the middle ground of that full spectrum. My favourite entrepreneurs are mission driven that solve problems whilst also bringing in revenues. Airbnb provided a fantastic resource to the victims of Hurricane Sandy without changing their everyday service of helping people find places to stay. Fabsie aims to change how furniture is designed and distributed, seeking to provide great design to those who did not previously have access. Our social mission and our mission are one in the same.
Cheers James. We hope to enjoy more of your collaborative action in future!
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