The sharing revolution has changed the planet. The way we call a cab, the way we holiday, how we work and live. And as often happens, what begins as a bold new phenomenon becomes normalised and must evolve to head off new challenges, or be replaced by the next big idea. Trudging around shops to buy DVD’s is pre-historic, we now stream and share the cost of ownership with monthly prescriptions. And in a world of spiralling ownership costs, millennials are leading the sharing revolution.
So why can’t we share design?
Open source refers to a code made available online to be refined, improved and infinitely shared. Originally applied to computer software, open source furniture is one of the most searched-for subtopics of the sharing genre. Laser cutting and 3D printing – once mythical ideas – are commonplace in workshops across the globe. Combine open source design with affordable hi-tech local production and we have a furniture revolution in the making, driven by the Maker Movement.
Open Source, Opendesk
Opendesk are a new breed of furniture manufacturer, disrupting the typical consumer supply route. They have become synonymous with open source furniture, linking designers and makers to the general public via an online platform. “Designed to be downloaded and made locally”, they’ve embraced the democratic nature of open source, inviting critique and feedback in order to improve design, processes and sustainability. See for yourself.
What were initially limited and clunky designs have developed, multiplied and improved albeit there is a clear design language within much of the collection due to the limitations of materials used and the inherent ‘simplicity’ of production and assembly. Opendesk count Greenpeace, Impact Hub and Digital Ocean amongst their corporate clients and are currently featured in Vitra Design Museum’s Hello Robot exhibition – a sure sign of their success. But how far will the movement evolve?
To get the opinion of a true maker with sustainable ideals, I chatted to Rainer Kyburz – Director of Basel-based Kyburz Made and self-confessed furniture addict, who is enthused by the trend.
“This movement is a perfect example of globalisation.” says Rainer, “We should make the best out of it and use it in a sensible way. Transportation of resources is optimised, local Materials can be used, or sent in Bulk as a single product to the customer, often flatpacked. Information as to how to produce something is shared and accessible. New international interdisciplinary cooperations are developed and ironically, creativity is pushed by the very limitation that a product has to be designed to allow it to be produced on the other side of the globe.”
That’s an interesting point. The very limitations imposed by remote access, production and logistics can in fact be a design catalyst. So where’s the down side? “At present, the limitations of production techniques” explains Rainer, “but this will evolve over time. Quality control could also prove difficult as the complete product does not come from an individual provider.” Indeed. Using a vast network or supply chain means results may vary.
We’re currently seeing a boom in plywood, coworking and tech-style interior schemes and this theme fits perfectly – not just in terms of design, but also target audience. But playing Devil’s advocate, in the words of the Dragons Den cash wad stroking suits, Is it truly scalable? Will production limitations prohibit development beyond the techniques and materials currently used, or will it evolve to integrate other materials, upholstery and ‘internet of things’ style tech? Keep your eyes on Opendesk who have a few interesting new developments in the pipeline.
“Could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb…?”
Cutting out middle men and delivering design direct to the people, open source furniture promises to be the uber of the industry, but in the highly competitive field of furniture design, could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb. With real people power undertones, the complex topic of design ownership is widely discussed on the open making site.
And what of the big furniture players in contract and retail – Will IKEA offer open source production any time soon? Herman Miller (amongst others) are already using 3D printing to significantly speed up their R+D process. Maybe they feel open source is best left to the DIY-ers, or the margin just isn’t there. Smartphone apps to convert 2D images into 3D CAD files for printing and 3D printers are universally available, meaning anyone can be a maker in the market. Where that will leave intellectual property rights is yet to be seen.
Part Man, part Machine
Is the online maker movement the arch nemesis to the traditional craft movement? Do the two meet somewhere in a ply bar at CDW to exchange notes over a craft beer, or would they end up in a Anchorman style barfight using downloaded ply chairs versus handmade oiled oak barstools? Personally, I think we will definitely see more ‘fusing’ of different production techniques across the industry as even old school manufacturers wise up to the benefits. Tech meets tradition. Furniture that is part man, part machine. Solid wood chair frames with 3D printed seat and backs and open source design with locally produced upholstery. One thing’s for sure, sharing isn’t going anywhere – it’s only just begun.
Until next time, you stay classy.
Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes. firstname.lastname@example.org