Low cost and open source tools are transforming the field of science, encouraging new users and generating data that will make a broader impact with new discoveries. These physical tools are significantly less expensive and expand participation to a larger community of makers. The design of open source tools is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make and sell hardware based on that design.
Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi and team have designed and developed Science Stack: Tools Within Reach, an interactive infographic that demonstrates the diversity of open source tools and low cost hardware. The module presents a series of 24 “cards,” each featuring a different tool and highlighting a specific feature to show the ways the tools can impact science and society. The cards are organized in categories such as sensors, 3D printers, robots, drones, microcontrollers and more, allowing makers, scientists and artists to explore the full range of devices.
The project was commissioned by the Wilson Center, the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum that addresses global issues through research and dialogue, and is presented by THING Tank, an initiative of the Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program. It launches to coincide with the National Week of Making, May 17-23, 2021.
The infographic demonstrates the diversity of tools in regards to research topic, cost, “openness,” and beyond, while highlighting how these tools are changing science and benefitting society. The challenge for the Pentagram designers was to create an interactive experience that presented the information in a fun and interesting way. It needed to be simple, accessible and engaging, in the spirit of the tools, which make scientific research available to anyone.
The designers first considered developing a graphic diagram or periodic table to map out the ecosystem of tools. Given the subject matter, they decided to create an experience with a tangible, easy-to-use physicality, like the tools themselves. The interactive module is inspired by the decidedly analog form of a stack of cards. The format evokes a library card catalog of information, computer punch cards and collectible trading cards.
The Pentagram team worked with the Wilson Center to develop the content, conducting research to generate data and identify data sets for the various tools. The information has been organized so the cards can be sorted by tool type, significance, use, price and openness. The significance category considers the larger effects of each tool, such as encouraging new uses and promoting co-creation, while openness looks at factors like technical ease of use and modular design. The characteristics are indicated by color coding and a system of dots and patterns that appear on the cards. The site was designed and developed in collaboration with Accurat.