Applying Open Practices — Arduino

This is the fifth post in our Open by Design series describing findings from industry research on how companies use open practices, share knowledge, work, or influence in order to shape a market towards their business goals. This time we’ll take a look at Arduino, a name synonymous with hardware hacking for the masses.

Since 2003, this 50-person company, with offices in Europe and US, has build out a robust ecosystem of accessible, open electronics ideal for prototyping new technology and exploring novel hardware applications. The first Arduino board was introduced in 2005 to help design students without prior experience in electronics or micro-controller programming to create working prototypes connecting the physical world to the digital world. It has grown to become the world’s most popular teaching platform for physical prototyping. Arduino launched an integrated development environment (IDE) in 2015, and also has begun offering services to build and customize teaching materials suited to the specific needs of its educational partners.

Behind the widespread adoption of its hardware platform there is a focus on a guiding mission and a clearly-defined user group: making technology open and accessible for non-technical beginners. All hardware design and development decisions feed into keeping the experience optimal and consistent for this target group, attracting a solid, stable base of fans.

The popularity of an open-source platform does not, however, necessarily translate to a sustainable business model. One consequence of Arduino’s growing popularity has been the proliferation of non-licensed third-party versions of its boards. What can’t be cloned is Arduino’s model of community collaboration, strategic partnerships, and mix of open and closed practices — all primary forces in driving their ongoing success.

“Being open means you engage a lot of people with different skills and expertise — you create an ecosystem that is much more diverse that any company could create by itself. It also provides a lot of momentum for the company at the core, that is driving it (…) We are making something that exists no matter what happens to the company, it will continue to exist, it will still have a life of its own.”
Dave Mellis, Co-Founder and former Software Lead — Arduino

Arduino was originally conceived as an educational kit to help creative people learn physical computing, and has always relied heavily on Learning from Use: which in this case, involved putting prototypes in front of students to study their learning process goals and frustrations, to gather ideas for how the kits could be made less confusing and more user-friendly. CEO Massimo Banzi personally teaches a number of Arduino workshops each year, giving him direct experiential knowledge that helps prioritize the organization’s hardware R&D efforts.

Continual improvement of its prototyping kits has extended Arduino’s popularity beyond technologists and designers, capturing the attention of artists who are interested in engaging with tech. Arduino’s specific focus on users with expertise in music, performance, and visual art who are passionate about publishing and sharing their work has increased the platform’s visibility, scope and speed of adoption.

On the IDE side, Arduino relies on a more expert community of designer-software specialists who have developed more in-depth technical expertise, and want to push the boundaries by creating custom libraries. In this community, a more familiar approach to open source is employed: creating together with a community of developers who form an essential part of the product development team.

With the launch of Arduino Education in 2015, the team brought creating together closer to the front end of the innovation timeline, collaborating to define services and materials with end users. Long before launching the service under the Arduino brand, the team conducted early explorations with teachers and schools to ensure the product was ideal for an established base of educators. This close collaboration averts the risk normally associated with new product development by ensuring a core community of users before the product is launched.

The Benefits of Participation

Arduino’s engagement with educational institutions and the maker community ensures a continuous feedback loop with end users, resulting in Better Products & Services in hardware. ‘Better’ in this case does not mean ‘technically more advanced’ than competitors — but rather that the boards, kits and instructions better fulfill Arduino’s educational mission. With the IDE, Arduino relies on an open source approach to Lower Product Development Costs. The educational services business — an extension of the Arduino brand — has co-developed its strategy with voices from the educational institutions, helping to anticipate their specific needs, driving even greater Adoption.

Alex Klepel & Gitte Jonsdatter (CIID)

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