DMY Berlin 2011 – Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive

If we’ve learned one thing this week it’s that those involved with Open Design are passionate about what they do. And discussions with them are accordingly long. If equally enjoyable.

The reason for our interest is the new book “Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive”. Initiated by Premsela, Creative Commons Netherlands and Waag Society, “Open Design Now” is the first comprehensive survey and analysis of Open Design, its function and its future. The official launch was held at Planet Modulor in Berlin during DMY 2011.

Our interview with Open Design pioneer Ronen Kadushin will follow next week, and, for reasons of space, our interview with Premsela programme manager and co-editor of “Open Design Now” Roel Klaassen will be published in two parts. In the second part we talk to Roel about his own relationship to Open Design and hear his views on where the journey is going.

And in the first part we talk, logically enough, about the new book “Open Design Now” itself.

minimumblog: Starting with the obvious first question; why the book?

Roel Klaassen: It all really started about three years ago. I was talking to Bas van Abel from Waag Society about the FabLab, where they have 3D printers, laser cutters etc, and he said that people were just using it to produce, so cups, or whatever. Just playing. No-one was using it to design. So we decided to launch an “Unlimited Design Contest” to try to encourage people to use this technology to really design. The contest was open to both professional designers and amateurs; the only condition was that you had to upload your designs so that others could use and adapt them.

And what was interesting was that no-one used the designs of the other entrants: you’re allowed to copy, you can copy, you should copy… but no one copied! And so last year at DMY Berlin during the Makers Lab we thought OK, if the designers, and wider public, don’t feel the urge to share and copy, in a good sense, then maybe we should write, discuss, debate about and over the theme a little more. And so decided to write a book!

And so it all started at DMY last year with a open workshop about what the book should be about, the layout et cetera. Normally such books are either “how to do it” books, with pictures and instructions or they are academic works or they are coffee table books full of nice pictures. And we decided we didn’t need just one of these options, rather all three, because we wanted to be able to speak to designers, academics and the wider public.

minimumblog: The title “Open Design Now” is quite a bold statement, and there are two obvious questions, Why Open Design and why now. Starting with the first, why Open Design?

Roel Klaassen: The defensive answer is because it is already happening. Design is one of the last disciplines to be affected by the combination of digital technology and the globalisation through the Internet. We’ve seen it in music, video or book publishing and in these three cases the industry was opposed to it, and tried to shut the doors. And now they are suffering heavily, because they couldn’t stop it. And so the defensive answer is because you have to.

The positive answer is because it is interesting and these are the years when the interesting, surprising things are happening. Open Design will not replace design as we know it but will become an addition to it. In Open Design one finds the innovation and solutions for our society, and Open Design isn’t just about design but also about how we cope with our world. It’s quite hard to solve problems nowadays, be it traffic jams in Berlin or water supply in Africa. Solving such problems with classic thinking is hard.  However if people share their ideas, then maybe we will find solutions that one person or institution alone wouldn’t find.

minimumblog: And why now? Why not for 5 years or in 5 years?

Roel Klaassen: We didn’t add the word in terms of “at this time” rather to encourage people to read it now. And so “now” is a way of us saying it’s happening, its interesting and if your currently not happy with the way things are, then now is the time to engage.

minimumblog: It’s an Open Design book. Will it also be an online book, where users can adapt and comment?

Roel Klaassen: The book is being published under a Creative Commons License, something that took me several meetings with the publisher before I could convince him it would be OK, and will naturally also be published online, but not immediately. We need to give the publisher some time to sell some hard copies. However we will publish it chapter by chapter online, so a new chapter every one or two months.

In the first version users wont be able to comment, because we didn’t want it to become a blog. However we hope to bring out a second edition with new thinking and new case studies. We’re not saying this is the book and it’s finished; rather, this is the first book and when the second version comes then that will contain new authors and new material. And so yes, a printed book is an awkward platform for such a topic, but if you don’t do it, it all floats around for years and nothing concrete happens.

minimumblog: And a final question, the book has largely been compiled by Dutch Institutions, droog launched their “Design for Download” project in Milan. Is Holland currently the centre of Open Design. Or are you just shouting the loudest?

Roel Klaassen: Lets be a bit modest and honest (laughs). Of course we’re not shouting the loudest but we are on top of it. It is developing well in the Netherlands because of our rather open social structure and also because we don’t have a large design orientated industry; designers tend to work for themselves and so need one another to create products and so their is a natural eagerness to share and cooperate. So the Netherlands is an interesting context for Open Design, but on the other hand we are a small country.  Albeit a small country with a lot of designers.

Open Design Now is published by BIS Publishers. Full details can be found at

dmy berlin open design now book launch

Open Design Now. (An open source image of the cover... so to say)

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