We nominate Waag Society for the inquisitive, catalysing manner in which they bring visibility to the current and future role of open design. Waag Society dares to think out loud, ask questions and carry on a discussion about the designer’s role, the making process, and user participation.
Open design is design whose creators allow it to be freely distributed and documented and condone modifications and derivations of it. Fundamental aspects are trust in the other, building on information that is exchanged, and assuming responsibility once products are made and used. Sharing information and data means sharing culture. Open design accords with similar developments that have taken place around open source networks, such as the introduction of the Internet and mobile communication. It is impossible to imagine contemporary society without the resulting increased transparency and freedom. Open design is now.
For years, Waag Society has been the chief proponent of open design in the Netherlands. The organisation acts as a pioneer, identifying, studying and fostering possibilities associated with the practice. Waag Society argues that design can no longer remain exclusive. They show admirable dedication to the cause, in the conviction that new technology will simply and naturally enrich everyday life, establishing and building community platforms and open access routes to that technology. They also develop tools, guidelines and open licences that enable people to share knowledge and ideas and to handle them in a respectful manner. Waag Society’s projects compliment and strengthen each other. Their experiments often lead to innovations.
A recent project is the establishment of a Fab Lab in Amsterdam – part of an international network of workshops featuring computer-controlled robots and machines. Fab Labs are open to everyone, provided the designs of the products made there are shared with others. The new design and production techniques the labs make possible and the option of personal customisation are fascinating. They bring an unprecedented new dimension to design for designers and users around the world. Waag Society established the first Dutch lab, Fablab Amsterdam, and that lab is carrying on in the pioneer spirit by helping to set up a sister lab in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The two Fab Labs will exchange knowledge and experience around using new technology to solve local problems. The goal is that the Indonesian lab will be able to produce useful items such as affordable prostheses by 2013. Fab Labs make a genuine contribution to the development of locally relevant products.
If Fablab Amsterdam is not only a workshop but also a hub that connects people, another Waag Society project, Dialogue Café Amsterdam, also links up people around the world – via teleconferencing – so they can exchange knowledge and find creative solutions to pressing social problems face to face. Waag Society’s Open Design Lab has launched two interesting initiatives to further explore open design’s potential. One is the (Un)limited Design Contest, a competition to encourage experimentation with shared designs, for which Waag Society develops open design tools and licencing systems. In addition, the organisation is working with a network of product designers, digital distributors, manufacturers and materials suppliers to develop new business models and product designs for downloadable design. The goals are to lower production and transport costs, reduce waste, bring transparency to the production chain and, last but not least, allow the end user to directly influence product design. Such sharing of knowledge and experience has a profound impact on the design process from start to finish.
Waag Society’s 2011 book ‘Open Design Now’ describes the origins, contemporary landscape and possible future scenarios of open design. It provides no answers but offers copious reflections and examples. The book has the potential to become a valuable tool for designers. Open design is all about sharing.
In cooperation with: Premsela, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion; Creative Commons Netherlands; Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms; FabLab.nl; Etsy; Droog Design; DMY Berlin; and Open Design City Special thanks: Arne Hendriks, Neil Gershenfeld, Sherry Lassiter, Roel Klaassen, Lucas Evers, Aart Helder, Hendrik-Jan Grievink, Peter Troxler, Michel Avital and Matt Cottam