Agata Jaworska on the Design for Download Project

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"Droog’s Agata Jaworska spoke to Vogue Living about the design for download project and the concept of open design – an approach that brings consumers and other collaborators into the creative process – for ‘Complete Fabrication’"


"Vogue Living: In what way is Droog’s design for download project an example of open design?

Agata Jaworska: It is open design in the sense we are working at bringing people into the design process and creating more interactive products. For example, we launched the ‘Do’ series of products in the early 2000s which was all about open design. Basically, we are looking at how you design tools for users so they can also become designers to an extent, which you can see in the products that we showed at our recent exhibition at Milan Design Week. For example, ‘Box-o-rama’ by Eventarchitectuur is a drag and drop system where users can drag boxes, scale them and combine them to create a shelving system. The program does everything else automatically and doesn’t allow users to create something that won’t work structurally. It will put in structural braces if necessary and resolves all the details automatically based on just dragging and dropping and scaling of boxes. So it makes the process fun for the user and not frustrating. Because really solving design from scratch is difficult and most people can’t do that, or choose not to do it because they have other things to do.

VL: At what point was it decided that Droog would engage people via an online interface as opposed to simply giving people the opportunity to intervene in the products at home as the brand has done with past products?

AJ: The back story to that is that we opened a store in New York in 2009 with an interior designed by Studio Makkink & Bey. The staircase had this CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) cut wall which housed CNC cut furniture within it that could be taken out and used. So those CNC products had the potential to be downloadable and so forth and part of the concept was that you could customise them. That same year in Milan we showed the next step of that development which was a house that was also CNC cut. And those projects are kind of what spurred the interest in downloadable design.

On the other hand, Droog is interested in developing new models for the design, distribution and production of design. Downloadable design is a whole chain redesigned and we are interested in innovating on both levels – on a system level and a product level. We’re always looking at structural innovation of supply chains for design – innovation on the level of the system behind design, not just innovative product design. We are interested in what the interaction will be with the user. How is a product distributed? What parts are transported? What parts are digital? Some other examples of that system based approach can be seen in the Saved by Droog exhibition which was shown in Milan in 2010 where we asked designers to use waste.

VL: In the last year and a half rapid prototyping and digital printing services has become a lot cheaper and more easily accessible by designers and the public, is that part of why this project is happening now?

AJ: The rise in cheaper technology has meant a rise in different user habits. Open design is a very trendy and hot topic right now, a lot of people are working in this area. We decided to step in because we think we have some unique capacities and that we could find a unique angle within this trendy topic area. So our actual platform has some unique features such as our emphasis on curated design. The stance we take is that as design becomes more open and more democratic, the design of the tools becomes the critical thing. How much choice do the consumers or the users have?

VL: Droog establishes the parameters of the designs tools and decides how much freedom to give the user – how are those parameters decided upon?

AJ: As a designer you have to think “If I give the user this realm of freedom that is going to give them this realm of possible outcomes.” That’s totally a matter of design. Those are design decisions. You have to design a certain amount of freedom and hand over a certain amount. And you also have to give the user the means to participate by designing the interfaces and making programs and program tools.

VL: The role of the designer appears to change in this scenario, is their position being usurped in any way by opening up the process and allowing others to participate?

Designers have shifted from designing the end result, something with no options for the consumer to interact with, to shifting to designing of the tools. But in design for download the design of the tools is just as controlled as the design of the final product. Design is a window of opportunity for the user to interact and this interaction gives the user a feeling of creativity. The feeling is real but that process is designed which is interesting. Basically the designer is designing the template or the starting point and also the tools for design. So even though it is “open design” – it is a heavily designed process – and also if you look at the other open design movements, which for example, provide a grid system online that allows you to manufacture products, even though this grid is a kit of parts that lets people do “anything” it is really a very heavily designed system. Somebody still has to design the grid. It is very controlled. In open design, the role of the designer doesn’t diminish – it just changes.

It is a lot of work to bring people into the design process and have good outcomes, outcomes that are satisfactory both for the user and for the designer. Because you know we ask the designers “What if the users design something that is ugly based on your template?” I think most designers in that situation feel that they designed the template and control it to some extent but there is a sense that they don’t care if the outcome is ugly. Alternatively, they know their design won’t become ugly because they have designed so as not to give that kind of freedom.

VL: Since we are talking about authorship and opening up participation, if someone customises a product on the Droog interface that is then manufactured, will it still be considered a Droog design?

AJ: The platform will not be branded Droog but will have its own name – Make Me – and there will be different brands. Droog will be one of them but there will be other shops within shops – you can think of it that way. So the business models of each shop will be set by their owner who will also curate the design within the store and set the rules, on intellectual property rights for example.

For the Droog shop on the platform we will invite specific designers to design for download. Two of the designers that were exhibited in Milan – Eventarchitectuur and Minale Maeda – we have already asked them to design for our label within Make Me so those indeed are Droog products designed by different designers.

VL: Do you envisage the open side of the website to have a strong community around it?

AJ: Yes, I think that is a really important that there is a sense of community and that people can reach out to one another and share what they have done. That definitely builds momentum and could be the engine behind Make Meand the thing that propels it. I think that being part of a community will have a much bigger impact on selling and buying in the future than it does now. I mean that is definitely happening already, communities and being part of a community is driving purchasing behaviour. Droog wants to have a community around our projects so another thing we are working on is the creation of a point system on our website where if you influence someone else in your community to buy something from Droog you get points. So we are also innovating the shop experience, learning from things like Facebook, or tapping into those kinds of online community forming habits.

VL: I want to discuss manufacturing. When you design a product on Make Me and press order, you are given the option to make it yourself or have it manufactured and sent to you. Where will that manufacturing occur?

AJ: We are creating an international network of manufacturers that are both low and high-tech. So some of them are more involved in CNC and computer-aided design and manufacturing. On the other hand we will also have low-tech manufacturers, because with design for download, you can also download very simple instructions, for example, how to fold a piece of paper. So that is an example of a design that doesn’t have to be computer-aided. It ties in to this idea we like of revisiting low-tech workshops through this high-tech global platform.

VL: Are the manufacturers going to be worldwide?

AJ: Yes. It is a huge project and to be honest, I am not sure if we will start to phase it in, or how exactly we will manage to get all these manufacturers around the world, and arrangements with all of them. People in our team are working on the logistics, but it is a big task and we depend on partners and stuff for that.

VL: How does open design and downloadable design work in terms of intellectual property?

AJ: In many situations a creative commons license could apply so consumers are allowed to copy the design but not reproduce it for commercial purposes. All the intellectual property concepts we are leaving up to the decision of the individual brands that are on the platform. So anyone who uploads an image can choose the license that should go with it. And in some situations for example, the actual blueprint for the design might not be uploaded. It might be that you see the design, you participate in the design – if there is some kind of co-creation possible – you hit the purchase button and the file gets sent directly to your nearest manufacturer and is made and delivered to your house. So there might like user interaction tools build into the interface but you might never actually see the design. But that’s up to each brand to decide. We expect innovation from the designer in response to all those kind of questions. We would like to challenge designers and ask them – how do you deal with intellectual property rights? How do you respond to the notion say of limited editions on a platform like this?

The other thing is that we imagine that designers could design products that are not a one-time download but that have a longer term downloading structure or lifespan. So you could download upgrades to your furniture or download other services perhaps and maybe with downloads, it is coupled with something physical that needs to happen. So this is sort of how we brief the designer and we are still going to be looking for more innovations in those directions." (

More Information

See also: Herman Verkerk on Complete Fabrication

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