Distributed Design wants to localize production

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The European network Distributed Design Market Platform met on October 8-10 at Fablab Budapest during Design Week to reflect on two years of collaboration, look toward the future and announce the release of its new book “Design, Remix, Share, Repeat”.

Ewen Chardronnet

Launched in 2017, Distributed Design Market Platform (DDMP) is a large network funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union, involving a dozen members and led by Fablab Barcelona at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC). According to DDMP, “Distributed design (DD) allows creatives, designers, makers and innovators to participate in creating a new model for production and consumption in which ‘bits travel throughout the world, while atoms remain at the local level’,” referencing the philosophy of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and the Fab City Global network, which advocates localized production.

The book Design, Remix, Share, Repeat is DDMP’s second publication (available online), reinforcing the ideas previously developed in their first book Fab City: The Mass Distribution of (Almost) Everything, presented at the Fab City Summit in Paris in July 2018. More than a year later, the members reunited this October during Budapest Design Week at Fablab Budapest, one of Europe’s oldest fablabs, founded in 2011.

DDMP members in front of Fablab Budapest. © DDMP

Exchanging data, producing locally

As DDMP’s Parisian partner, the Fab City Store, formed by local organizations Ars Longa, Volumes, Villette Markerz and WoMa for the Fab City Grand Paris federation, supports designers and makers developing production methods that are 100% local. “The Fab City Store is a research-action project that is really expanded in development by the DDMP network,” explains Soumaya Nader, program coordinator for Ars Longa. The Store provides access to digital tools that can help people design, prototype and produce objects themselves, while connecting to a global network of potential collaborators who can participate in various aspects of the process of distributed design. For DDMP, these processes and the market that results from these tendencies is what defines distributed design.

“We support creators whose materials are sourced and products are manufactured locally from A to Z,” says Nader, who took the train from Paris to Budapest in order to “be consistent” with the project. Kate Armstrong, DDMP coordinator at Fablab Barcelona: “As we move from the PITO (Product-In, Trash-Out) model to the DIDO (Data-In, Data-Out) model, it’s essential that citizens and all levels of society are involved in the process. In the long term, we need to think about how distributed design can offer methods to rethink our way of living inside the model of a circular rather than linear society.”

Distributed Design members are: IAAC in Barcelona, Fab City Store / Ars Longa in Paris, Innovation Center Iceland, P2P Lab in Athens, Pakhuis Dezwijger in Amsterdam, Happylab in Vienna, Polifactory in Milan, Other Today in London, Re:Publica in Berlin, Danish Design Center in Copenhagen, Opendot in Milan, Politécnico de Lisboa, Copenhagen Maker, Fablab Budapest, Espacio Open in Bilbao.

After two years of activity and getting to know one another, the aim of the gathering was to share experiences, list the tools used and identify the best ways to collaborate, projecting themselves together on a European scale. “Federating the DDMP members is a way not only to explore this concept in design, but also to consider what level of immaterial culture is created from these principles, whether it’s in terms of commercial models, education or products in specific industries,” said Armstrong. “We have an incredible diversity of members, which is essential for what we’re doing at the European and international levels.”

Distributed Design: a philosophy

The meeting was also an opportunity to introduce the newest publication to present DDMP’s vision. Design, Remix, Share, Repeat is the second in a series of five books planned. Conceived as a varied exploration of distributed design by all the partners, the book collects opinions, thoughts, case studies and research from the network, as well as annual events such as the Distributed Design Summer School and Distributed Design Awards. Even the book’s design is based on the distributed technology GitBook, another way of exploring how distributed technologies can renew conventional publishing methods and content creation.

Below are two excerpts from the book that give an idea of DDMP members’ work philosophy.

Introduction by Tomas Diez, Christian Villum, Kate Armstrong and Alessandra Schmidt, pp. 14-15:

“The DD model challenges the existing linear paradigm of the First Industrial Revolution and its associated phenomena; patenting, access to fabrication tools, supply chain distribution, value chains and technological development. We live in a moment of technological and crisis convergence. The emergence of Industry 4.0 and the global shift away from fossil fuels; stress in natural ecosystems; climate change and over-consumption has raised questions about the nature of and culture around the products we buy, use and dispose of – as well as the support systems in which they circulate globally. Through the Distributed Design approach, we are promoting, implementing, researching and developing alternatives to mass production and linear consumption models after 200 years of Industrialisation.

“We contextualise this action-based research in a wider framework of the new urban model of the Fab City Global Initiative. Created in 2014, it proposes a shift in the urban paradigm from ‘PITO’ (product-in, trash-out) to ‘DIDO’ (data-in, data-out). Fab City focuses on the movement of data, use of local material supply chains and digital fabrication as an alternative to the movement of materials and goods from production to consumer. In the case of design, this not only provides consumers with more control over final products by allowing them a voice in the production process, but can also provide designers access to collaborators and tools across global infrastructure networks. This urban model can provide solutions to issues of social and environmental inequality by lessening our reliance on centralised systems and scarce resources to ultimately improve life.

“Distributed Design is a phenomenon that integrates design skills and the ‘making’ approach to enable the development of new entrepreneurial types of professional producers. On one hand, designers acquire more technological and practical skills. On the other, makers evolve their design attitude and capabilities. This convergence is generating new markets, which require new business models and distribution models. In turn, this breeds new ways of working, thinking and valuing, which are explored in the observations, research and case studies presented in this book. These accounts come from members and associated members of the Distributed Design platform, who gather from cultural organisations, industry and educational institutions to advocate for Distributed Design, and foster the role of European creatives in actively shaping this emerging field.”

“State of the art – on the Distributed Design”, by Tomas Diez and Christian Villum, pp. 38-41:

“Medieval cities used to be independent centralised centres that were not considered communications ‘nodes’, as they were not connected with larger networks, at least at scale. After the invention of the printing press, cities could start to develop a sense of connection and exchange of knowledge. This renaissance could be considered a byproduct of the spread of knowledge that happened centuries before, but also the beginning of the industrial era.

“Industrial cities operated as decentralised nodes of production, with their own capacity to satisfy most of the needs of local populations – but connected with larger networks of supply chains at a global scale. This explains the development of nation states as strong organisational powers. It was during the 20th century, and thanks to the globalisation process and efficiencies in time and profits, that cities were able to take the production of food and goods out of the cities, leaving the responsibility of supplying the needs of locals to the global market. As a result, corporations became stronger. Organisations could even establish and remove national governments.

“The way we organise our production of knowledge, energy, goods, food and the resources needed to sustain life on this planet is directly related to the organisation of power – whether economic, political or social. It seems that we are on the verge of reorganising the way we produce almost everything, thanks to the convergence of technological advancements and the need to solve the fundamental challenges of our times. We are moving to a more distributed model, with unexpected consequences in the definition of new roles of individuals, communities, organisations, political movements and even corporations.

“The rapid drive of technological transformation sweeping the planet is underpinned by a range of what could be referred to as social undercurrents, or new norms for interaction and collaboration. One of these is arguably the global wave of digital collaborations that can be seen in the open source movement. Hundreds of thousands of people act as nodes in gigantic digital value creation networks that produce assets such as knowledge, science, software, services, virtual content and physical products. Above all, a rapidly expanding new commons of open design is available for anyone to build on. The classic models of design taking shape inside organisations are increasingly being supplemented – and will potentially eventually be replaced – by decentralised and distributed practices that dramatically accelerate development pace and innovation speed.

“However, it seems that this techno-optimism has been plagued with unintended consequences of the digital revolution. Computers need rare minerals to be built, which are scarce and expensive to extract. When produced at scale, computers are causing both an ecological and a social disaster; these need to be reduced to its minimum, or to be hidden from consumers. Access to information lives inside another paradox. It can unleash the spread of knowledge and start a new renaissance, or it can create new mechanisms to manipulate entire populations to buy a certain type of products or bring votes to political leaders. We live in a paradox of convergence, in which old philosophical understandings of the world and the ways to operate it live together alongside these new forms of production and distribution. While they are promising, they often seem to be held on hold as the old figures out how to deal with the new.

“One thing that is becoming very clear is that this philosophical understanding embeds a strong fervour towards finding a more sustainable path – one that builds on the distribution of knowledge; and the capacity that ‘bits’ have to transform visions of the world and enable the articulation of collaboration at global scale. The relationship that humans have with ‘atoms’ that are extracted or dumped into ecosystems is also being redefined, and changing the many futures of humans and other species that share spaceship Earth.”

The book Design, Remix, Share, Repeat is available to download or read online at DDMP

More about the Fab City Store and Fab City Grand Paris