The emergence of the Maker Movement has taken place in the context of a design practice and research that is now open, peer-to-peer, diffuse, distributed, decentralized; activity-based; meta-designed; ontologically-defined and defining; locally-bounded but globally-networked and community-centered. For many years the author participated and worked in the Maker Movement, with a special focus on its usage of digital platforms and digital fabrication tools for collaboratively designing and manufacturing digital and physical artifacts as Open Design projects. The author’s main focus in practice and research as a meta-designer was in understanding how can participants in distributed systems collaboratively work together through tools and platforms for the designing and managing of collaborative processes. The main research question of this dissertation is: How can we support and integrate the research and practice of meta-designers in analyzing, designing and sharing open and collaborative design and making processes within open, peer-to-peer and distributed systems?
The focus evolved and changed with three main phases: from facilitating collaborative design processes with 1) guidelines for a generic design approach, process and tools, to the use of 2) design tools and workshops that encode the methodology to developing 3) a digital ontology and the related digital platform. In the latter, the ontology for describing, documenting, sharing and designing collaborative design processes was developed as part of a broader conceptual framework, OpenMetaDesign, that builds the ontology on top of concepts describing design processes, and encodes it in a digital platform. The role of the ontology is to support the practice and research with a Research through Design approach that works not just on understanding the practice but also informing it, navigating it and continuously redesigning it. This dissertation is an exploration of the possible role, practice and profile of meta-designers that work in facilitating distributed, open and collaborative design and making processes in the Maker Movement. As a result, it provides insights on the practice and artifacts of the author and also a strategy and tools for applying the same exploration to other meta-designers. Following a Research through Design framework for bridging practice and research, the dissertation redefines Meta-Design in the Maker Movement as the design of digital ontologies of design processes as design material. Ultimately, the practice of designing a Metadata Ontology for Ontological Design through the design of bits (digital environments) and atoms (physical artifacts) with and for Open, Peer-to-Peer, Diffuse, Distributed and Decentralized Systems. Finally, it redefines meta-designers as designers, facilitators, participants, developers and researchers embedded in social networks that define their activities, profiles and boundaries for the ontologies they design.