DESIGN TRENDS: Open design

Is design reserved for a few chosen ones and do we need an expert’s license for creativity? The contemporary world gives a “no” answer to these questions. Manufacturing has been democratized to the extent that anyone may have their own share in the production of objects and services. All we need are good intentions and a good software.

"We are witnessing the New Industrial Revolution that relies on digital manufacturing which, thanks to computers and the Internet, goes beyond a small group of scientists and opens itself to lay people"

– says Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of opinion-forming WIRED magazine until 2012, currently the cofounder and CEO of 3D Robotics, a drone manufacturing company. As its name suggests, Open Design is a trend that opens up new manufacturing and creation possibilities for the multitude of enthusiasts. It also invites cooperation between experts and users. Nowadays, available technologies make it easy for us to produce things at home by ourselves. As a result, we no longer have to rely exclusively on large manufacturers.


How does Open Design  work?

In practice, the process of “opening” design consists in designers sharing information on how to make a particular product. Initially, the idea was popular among programmers, with designers and producers joining in later. Web-based spaces gathering those engaged in creating products and sharing ideas, such as Makerspace or Thingiverse, have been springing up like weeds. Information on beautiful designs is made available to everyone wishing to create something on their own and can be found on, for example, Mozilla Factory Open Source Furniture. Open Design Now, published in 2011, is an iconic guide to Open Design available in its entirety online under the Creative Commons license. In the introduction we read:


"Design is undergoing a revolution. Technology is empowering more people to create and disseminate designs, and professionals and enthusiasts are using it to share their work with the world. Open design is changing everything from furniture to how designers make a living"


Open Design sets forth new challenges for designers and at the same time opens up new possibilities. Not so long ago, designers were primarily concerned with the design of a product and not with the process of its production and selling. At present, the creator’s role has been expanded beyond its previous focus. Designers have to think the design process through to minimize the possibility of a potential amateur designer making a mistake while creating an object at home. Once designers put their projects on the Web, they have to be ready to cooperate – users willing to use a project will surely come up with plentiful ideas on how to improve a given product or service. The so far non-existent openness to the exchange of knowledge between both sides has now become an indispensable trait. This dialog heralds the dawn of a new epoch in which users can co-create products to make them suit their needs best.

Such an interdisciplinary cooperation of minds specializing in various fields and having different experiences and needs transcends the boundaries of a traditionally understood design. New processes give users new experiences and let them enter new relations with objects, the effects of  which are by no means predictable.



Designing relations

The idea behind Open Design is about users introducing changes into original projects. By doing so, they express their approval of designs and designers. For who would like to modify anything if they weren’t going to use it? Eventually, the wow effect of the final product is nowhere near as important as the relations between designers and makers. The focus goes from the “wow design” to the “we design”.

By getting in contact with Open Design, the so far passive consumers have a chance of becoming prosumers. Prosumers not only consume but also produce – they engage in the process by introducing changes and improving original products or services. Thus they become co-creators of the final effect.

Along with the forecasted changes in a designer-consumer relation, the entire production and sales structure will undergo certain modifications. Once, the production process involved investors, producers, designers, sellers and consumers. Open Design relies mainly on the presence of a designer and a consumer. This web of relations becomes less obscure for users who decide to consciously engage in it.

The development of CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) technologies, such as CNC lasers and 3D printers makes skills once reserved for specialists available to the wider public. Users feel more encouraged to create if they can transfer their virtual designs to the three-dimensional reality.



Favorable trends

Apart from Open Design, other so-called open trends come to life. Focused on both individual production and cooperation, they complete one another and increase the market value of design. They don’t necessarily connect us with the virtual reality because it is the idea that matters, and not technology. You can stay offline and still design “openly”. Some of the examples of open trends include: The Maker Movement of Do-It Yourselfers (see the article on Zakład operating in Poznań), Skill Share (people sharing skills with one another), Customization (which focuses on users weary of mass-scale production looking for custom-made objects, e.g.: Polish brand Tylko), Crowdfunding/Crowdsourcing (the process of getting funding for the implementation of projects, usually taking place online on websites such as Kickstarter).



How does Open Design work in practice? Aleksandra Szostakowska, a student at the Faculty of Industrial Design at School of Form in Poznań has designed a socially-involved object that illustrates the idea standing behind Open Design.  Her project is based on the more and more popular 3D printing technology. Aleksandra has designed a ‘democratic’ hand prosthesis. The cost of its production varies from 120 to 150 zlotys depending on the size of an object and can be easily covered by the subsidy for cosmetic prostheses offered by the Polish government (currently it is 800 zlotys).  The cost of a professional prosthesis of this type may reach even 100 thousand zlotys, the sum far bigger than the one covered by the subsidy. The 3D printing technology has been used extensively within the field of Open Design. In the case of Aleksandra’s project, the technology allows to customize a prosthesis to the user’s needs, to print its extra parts (if they’re missing or broken) or to simply improve its functioning. Such a prosthesis cannot replace a real human hand, but it can work as a tool that has similar functions and makes an everyday life of its user much easier. The starting point of the project was Aleksandra’s research on the market availability of tools and end arm effectors for industrial robots – well-known for their efficient functioning and form being closely related to function. When it comes to the functioning of the prosthesis in question, it is made possible thanks to the system of flexible connectors which stretch to open and close the hand. Therefore, they work similarly to the way human muscles do.



The open future

The growing popularity of Open Design raises a lot of questions. The majority of them remain unanswered: Who should take responsibility if produced objects turn out to be defective? How should the business side of Open Design be handled so that designers get paid for their work? What will happen to projects with great potential yet unappreciated by users? Despite all these questions, there are still lots of benefits to this trend which let us believe that we really are witnessing the new industrial revolution. Open Design makes users actively engage in the production of an object. Thanks to it, they are prone to feel a stronger connection with an product that is partly of their own creation rather than with a ready-made thing bought in store. Users can customize objects according to their liking, while designers can improve their products on the basis of users’ feedback.



The trend at hand seems problematic due to the possibility of designers losing control over their works. However, all the problematic issues fade away when we think of all these products that can make a real change in the market and help people. Aleksandra’s project proves it best. Design in general is yet to familiarize itself with Open Design, the trend which may revolutionize our everyday reality by opening up a multitude of possibilities.

The design which opens itself to users’ needs and encourages people to cooperate may become an incentive for changes in other fields. The public sector could focus on citizens by engaging them in, for example, the creation of common public spaces. There are no perfect solutions for  everyone. Why shouldn’t we, then, do our best to gather together and create ideas that would change spaces we live in to make them suit our needs better?

To sum everything up, the quote from the great promoter of design and author of numerous articles, John Thackara:

"Openness is more than a commercial and cultural issue. It’s a matter of survival"


To see more pictures from DESIGN TRENDS cycle go to our Pinterest!


Photo: courtesy of the designers
Text: Justyna Strociak



Justyna Strociak - She has graduated from Industrial Design at the School of Form in Poznań. In August 2014, together with Magda Gąsiorowska, she became a finalist of Make Me! – a competition for young designers. Several months later, along with her four friends and at the invitation of Lidewij Edelkoort, a trendforecaster and observer, she went on a few days’ stay to the Trend Union’s department in Paris where she broadened her knowledge of current trends and ways to analyze them. In March 2015, together with Ewelina Rytel, Magda Gasiorowska i Aleksandra Kalinowska, she finished a Trendbook with design inspirations for 2016. The work on the book was supervised by Zuzanna Skalska.



As a designer I feel a constant need to observe events connected with the sphere of design. Thanks to it, I have a better understanding of people’s needs and I am able to more appropriately plan final versions of my projects. The knowledge of our everyday reality enables us to discover the so far unknown situations requiring innovative solutions, especially important in the world of business. Besides, information about trends may be of valuable significance for those who want to be more conscious of changes occurring all around us.





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