Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Open-Source Design

“Trendy” furniture made from reclaimed wood and found items are available for extremely high prices, but there is a demand from the more money-conscious shopper for fashionable furniture that can fit within a tight budget. Downloadable designs for similar items have now become available to respond to this market. These widely accessible designs can be taken down to the local shop, and the customer can then easily assemble the cut pieces at home. It is becoming increasingly popular for designers to move towards  “open source” design, allowing users to download tweakable templates for everyday items, such as furniture. 

The former idea of the factory is changing and rapid prototyping technologies, such as laser cutters and 3-D printers are enabling this shift to occur. The “maker” movement, which encourages mass-customization, could re-engage the business of manufacturing. This shift could work to create environmentally responsible jobs and would empower customers to purchase items which are specifically tailored to their needs. 

Companies such as ‘Artfab’, ‘SketchChair’ and 'MakeMe’ specialize in home wares that can be assembled from flat, interlocking pieces of wood or acrylic which are cut using a laser cutter or CNC machine. Gary Rohrbacher and Anne Filson are the creators of ‘Artfab’, and are working towards an improved appreciation for designers and a better service for customers. Architect Gary Rohrbacher proposes that we “ ship information not stuff”. He explains that “if you score big and a manufacturer likes your design, they put it into production and make a million dollar factory somewhere far away”. Filson further explains the process, bringing light to the fact that “They exploit labour, and they source things from all around the world- cast metal from here, hardware from there. Then they sell your item to customers for several thousand dollars; you as a designer get about 90 per piece”. Dutch designer, Jorris Laarman, and advisor of MakeMe, explains that a designer receives about 3% of what an item is worth straight out of the factory, after which the brand follows by adding an additional 300% price increase. The shop then doubles the price before the item is sold off the shelf. This model for manufactured goods fails both the customer and the designer. As fabrication technology becomes increasingly affordable for individuals and small businesses, the distributed network of small scale manufacturers are becoming more prominent. 

"Open-source design: Mass bespoke ." The Economist . (accessed December 4, 2012).

The concepts demonstrated by open-source design are similar to those embodied by Wes Jones and his PRO/con projects. Wes Jones chooses to use prefabricated shipping containers as a base to his more complex and customized designs. In the same way, open-source design companies like SketchChair are looking for processes to serve customers on a personal and individual level while maintaining the affordability and efficiency provided through modern manufacturing and production technologies.

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