Open Design Now – book launch at the Berlin Design Festival

First report from my short trip to DMY International Design Festival Berlin: the international launch of the book Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive.


The book launch was only one of the many satellite events of the festival, it took place at Planet Modulor, a creative hub so new i’m not sure it’s officially open yet and was organized by a bunch of Amsterdam people who doubted they had enough connections in town to attract the crowd. Design is, after all, one of the last creative disciplines to embrace open movements.

Unsurprisingly however, dozens of people turned up. Proof enough that ‘open design’, in spite of its lack of a clear definition or recognized bankability, can generate much interest in a design festival. Even if it is not yet acknowledged by the creators and buyers who gather in Milan each Spring for the Salone del Mobile, open design has the potential to change design as we know it.


The theme of the book was discussed over two panels moderated by Marcus Fairs, founder and editor-in-chief of and author of the books 21st Century Design and Green Design.

First, three of the main authors and editors of the book, Bas van Abel (Creative Director of Waag Society), Roel Klaassen ( Programme Manager at Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion), Lucas Evers (Head of Programme Culture at Waag Society and member of Creative Commons Netherlands) took the stage.

The three of them had very different but convergent interests in Open Design. van Abel’s background is design so, he explained, “i was thinking first about myself when i started looking into open design”. He is also the cofounder of the Waag Society’s Fablab, a fabrication laboratory which offers digital fabrication and operates on the principles of open source and open content (Creative Commons). FabLabs, he pointed out, give back the transparency that industrialization had taken away.

The slowness of design to embrace the open movement might be explained by the fact that when you exchange a video, a song or a photo through a computer, you have the finished product in front of you. Physicality has obviously a much stronger importance in product design. Besides, design is often a collaborative process and many steps can be seen as content, even the sketch on a napkin.

None of the panelists could (or rather would) answer Marcus Fair’s request to give a clear-cut definition of open design. The practice, said Evers, is not fixed, it is in constant flux. Open design is more about a mentality than a strict definition. The book is the first survey of open design and its aim is to explore what open design can be and what you can do with it, it is only the starting point of a discussion.


Self-proclaimed ‘open designer’ Ronen Kadushin, Waag Society founder Marleen Stikker, and Tommi Laitio, a researcher for Finland’s only independent think-tank, Demos Helsinki then came on stage for the second panel.

Stikker talked about the possibility to develop new business models with open design, Laitio brought a politico-social take on open design while Kadushin chose to highlight one of his open design products, the iPhonekiller.


iPhonekiller (prototype)

The most interesting part of their discussion was about how designers nowadays struggle with the mainstream production model. It simply doesn’t work for them anymore. A graphic included in the book shows that “Under the current system, a designer takes his or her design to a manufacturer, who makes it and then takes it to a shop that sells it. If he is lucky, the designer gets 3% ex factory. The brands adds 300% and the shop doubles that again.” The old production model cannot be applied to contemporary designs. Nowadays production run is much shorter, many of the works designed are produced as speculative materials, for show or marketing purposes, etc. We need to find a new position for the maker and the crafter as well.

The Open Design Now authors had chosen Berlin as the first place to launch their book because that’s where they had the idea to write it one year ago, when they were participating to one of the Maker Labs organized by DMY.

Open Design Now was designed by Hendrik-Jan Grievink, it is published by BIS publishers. Content will gradually be made available on the book’s website. I obviously managed to nick a copy of the book and it looks really good. Proper review will follow shortly but there’s no reason not to go ahead and order your copy on amazon USA or UK right now!

Open Desing Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive will be presented to the Dutch creative community at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, on the 8th of June. Journalist & writer Tracy Metz will lead the discussion on the implications of open design first with the authors & editors of the book and then with Jurgen Bey (Studio Makkink & Bey), Michelle Thorne (Mozilla), Brian Garret (Freedom of Creation) and Massimo Menchinelli ( /Aalto University)

Image on the homepage: Repairing the Waag in Amsterdam with LEGO during a workshop with Jan Vormann, photography Johannes Abeling.