So Droog is in Milan this week announcing their ‘Downloadable design’ platform. Yesterday when I tweeted the link (without watching it) to the above video I was jumped (on twitter) by some lovely people expressing their concerns about the open design approach. I’ve been aware of Downloadable Design by Droog for about a year now, but I too was inevitably surprised at the open/user design approach they adopted. Notably however the curated part of this model, is closer to customisation than open design.
Droog pitch this at design creators, brands, manufacturers and consumers, the possibilities for each differ. I am a designer, I like to control my design output and I like to get paid for what I do, right? So I love to bash open design just as much as the next person. However Droog’s Downloadable design approach as an abstract research field fits with my research which looks at ‘point of use production’, and while open design, user design, co-creation and such are possibilities of a downloadable design approach they aren’t necessarily central to the debate or where the exciting possibilities lie.
Interestingly, many of the protests I face when talking about anything in the post industrial manufacturing (PIMS) debate arise from the open design or user-design approach, because somehow people view them as inextricably linked. I’m tempted to blame the mainstream press, maker culture, Neil Gershenfeld (The Coming Revolution) for this, or perhaps it is because as designer and makers we don’t quite know what to do with the possibilities of PIMS and we are deferring to consumers. It would be wrong to dismiss open design outright however and I will write about it another time.
Droog sell this as a platform for ‘Democratising the economic system of design’. In a way they are correct but it is also about production, retail and distribution – forget user design/open design for a moment, wear your professional hat while thinking about this. Say you are an SME, entrepreneur or independent designer based in London. Traditionally (lets say in the industrial era) mass production techniques and the hierarchies associated made producing your designs difficult and costly, without the weighting of huge branding behind you, you couldn’t sell the masses of products you need to justify the tooling set up. Now with PIMS you (individual/SME) can harness the possibilities of agile/lean/leagile models if you wish, flexible specialisation, on-demand production capabilities, (depending on set up) you can have zero physical inventory (materials perhaps) you can retail online… A lovely example would be Curious Scarves which is on-demand (lean) textiles/fashion production. I guess all I am saying, and what I am excited by is that PIMS and downloadable design strategies level the playing field reducing the traditional disadvantages of SMEs.
Droog suggests it presents ‘a new way to download, design, make and share digital design’ it isn’t new, it is just becoming more viable. On distribution: the potential for supply chain management and distribution networks is evident – here you find researchers talking about distributed manufacture, networks of makers, hubs and such. Opinion is divided as the to success of this approach, sustainability cited as one of its benefits (not personally convinced). Assa Asuach is currently developing (what he terms) a ‘hotel booking system’ for production, that I might order something from ASupplier.com in America and it might be routed for production in my nearest UK based production hub, Gershenfeld would say ‘in my home’, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.
On design: perhaps this makes a call for new design methodologies and practices some might say ‘post industrial design’ which can include open design and user design (dismissing outright the value of open design or user design is naive, if problematic for designers to embrace at times.) but it isn’t strictly limited to these approaches and might make a call for ‘human aided design’ or ‘passive user design’ using sensor technology as well as computational design.
On making: there is a call in UK policy to regenerate entrepreneurial activity and manufacturing industry and the possibilities are evident here.
For those of you who know me – I’m being careful about what I say here as I have a vested interest in Droog, catch me in a more private sphere to talk this through. But as I said yesterday, the possibilities of ‘downloadable design’ (PIMS meets the intertubes) in a product design context isn’t necessarily about DIY or customisation, but about reducing barriers to entry, distribution, new organisational structures, new design methodologies, vertical disintegration, entrepreneurship, lean/agile production…