During the Salone, Droog presented furniture and accessories designed for download by EventArchitectuur and Minale-Maeda, including CNC cut tables, cupboards, desks, side tables, shelves, couches and 3D printed electrical outlets, flowers and charms. The presented products have been customized by Droog for its ongoing collections.
Droog also presented digital design tools that allow ordinary computer users to easily make functional design decisions, automatically generating blueprints for local execution in various materials. The tools also enable communication between designer and customer, streamlining and lowering the cost of a custom design process
Droog asked Eindhoven-based design company “whose mission it is to give people the creative freedom to design their own products,” Studio Ludens to develop design tools for the project, design for download.
At the breakfast press presentation in Milan, Droog spoke with Alexander Rulkens and Wouter Walmink about the tools they created for “Box-o-rama” and “Facades and functions” by EventArchitectuur and “Wanna-be storage” by Minale-Maeda.
Tell us about user involvement in the design of the products. What can they customize?
Each of the designs in their own way offered meaningful customization for the user. Customization is not a value in itself. It is only a means to something. Customization might offer functional or aesthetic choices, and on a meta level it gives users the possibility to be creative, which can be a very pleasant experience.
Wanna-be wardrobe offers a way for the user to determine the functionality of the product. The user knows what he wants and can make that. What’s strong about the digital tool is that it has a very low threshold; everyone can use it to make functional design decisions.
The tools we developed for EventArchitectuur ask for more creativity from the user. The user can make something that feels like it is his own design because the product is ultimately a composition. In Box-o-rama, the user can arrange boxes and this changes the whole shape. It’s not about adding things but about deciding on the whole design.
What was your role in relation to the designers in developing these tools?
The designer was the guardian of the concept, the product and had his own idea of what the changeable options could be. Our role was to be a guardian of the user. We always asked whether the tool was accessible enough and how the options were presented.
What are some of the things you have learned from the process?
Over time we’ve learned that it’s best when the interface is simple, playful and when there is an element of surprise. It’s important not to have too many features or options. That’s one of the biggest pitfalls of all website and interface designs. Sometimes two options are better than a whole range. It’s the paradox of choice; too much is overwhelming.
Do you think that the platform will be successful?
There are many open design initiatives out there. What is quite unique about this project is that we are working with products that have been designed well and that are actually producible. The production and the interface has been integrated into the design of the product. A good designer and a good platform are essential for the success of our tools. If the platform won’t work as it should then our tools won’t have a chance. All the components must come together, and here, we feel it might happen.
Founded in 1993, EventArchitectuur is an architectural design studio that tries not to define its style. It deliberately aims to make the outcome of their projects a result of the interaction of different participants in the design process.
Droog asked founder and designer, Herman Verkerk and recently joined collaborator, Tal Erez a few questions about their designs for download.
When Droog asked you to design for download, how did you approach the brief?
Herman Verkerk: We were working on installations of a cupboard system and we wanted to standardize the design to make it more accessible to people. Digital media came as a good tool for us to communicate the design to the customer, and for the customer, to be able to interfere or interact with it. Ultimately the customer makes the design decisions. We wanted to make a framework and not to define the final design. We made building blocks and the interface so that people can add or transform the design. That gives a lot of freedom.
Tell us more about the kinds of design decisions that the customer can make. What’s the line between you and the customers?
Tal Erez: The process was about simplifying the design and giving options that are very clear. Our designs offer endless possibilities within very simple boundaries. Take for example, Box-o-rama. Dragging and dropping boxes gives an endless range of options. It is a fun process that normal computer users can understand. And this process gives people programmatic choices; functional choices which will eventually determine the design, rather than just decorative options.
Did working with digital media influence the designs?
TE: It certainly does by considering the interface from the very beginning. We have to think of an interface that is digestible. And, since a 3D representation on a 2D screen can be confusing, it means the core of the interface should be in 2D. This affects the design, which also starts with a 2D existence. We played with a dotted line, which is a very common 2D representation. Using Illustrator, we applied the same thickness, but modifying the gaps to achieve a specific tone or a unique rhythm in a dotted line. This was then transformed into press fit connections in 3D. The process went back and forth, like a ping-pong game between 2D and 3D in the design, interface, detailing, decoration, manufacturing and assembly. The ping-ponging gave it a specific character. It created a certain visual language that is recognizable. Whatever you do with Box-o-rama it will always be Box-o-rama.
HV: The interesting part of dealing with digital media is that they have their own limits. They give input into how they would structure the design, which is interesting for developing new products. The biggest and most difficult aspect is that there’s no sense of touch involved. You get into this virtual world and there are only fragments of the real thing. We love the gravity tool, which comes into play in Box-o-rama when customers put boxes on top of each other. Gravity is introduced in a digital sense and it’s one of the first steps for getting a feeling for the object. The other interesting thing is that the tool makes decisions of its own, making some options impossible. It ensures that one cannot order something that cannot exist.
How do you feel about opening up design to customers?
HV: We treated the assignment as a way to communicate not only the possibility for a consumer to be able to transform the design and to make his own stuff, but also to communicate about our office and our attitude towards open design. This system is not star designer based. Making a framework instead of defined and finished products is where I see the difference between star design and non-star design.
How do you think people will react?
HV: Knowledge is still transported through humans, institutes, or some other kind of “real world” channel. The internet is able to distribute, but I’m not sure it is able to educate or make people change their behaviour. But once they get started, a big universe all of a sudden opens up.
Since you don’t control the design completely, can you imagine some unintended consequences?
HV: It doesn’t matter that there might be unintended design consequences. What matters is that the process gives rise to a community, one that communicates through design. We really would like consumers to upload what they have designed and made. Or maybe even what they have designed, without making it at all. It is more a way of showing and communicating diversity. We are looking forward of a library of examples, which are ugly or beautiful, but certainly interesting.
Are you not afraid that people will copy your blueprints?
TE: With Box-o-rama and Facades & functions we are not selling a design but a tool. Besides the fact that the tool was not easily developed and therefore is not easily copied, the design is only complete when the user is involved. The thought of the user completing the design actually takes quite a bit of the edge of copying it, because what exactly is it that you copy?.
Rotterdam-based design duo, German-born Mario Minale and Japanese-born Kuniko Maeda began collaborating in 2005. As Minale-Maeda they are interested in perspectives on contemporary material culture. We spoke with Mario about their designs for download.
Can you tell us how you approached the brief?
Mario Minale: On the one hand we were interested in creating a furniture system based on downloadable design and on the other, we were interested in making a statement about the current state of culture and how that intercepts with technology. In both respects, we were curious how downloadable design makes something new possible.
Creating a downloadable furniture system was in line with our ambitions to make things that can be easily manufactured. Inside-out furniture is a very simple line of furniture in which the joinery is brought to the foreground. Seeing the structure helps with the simplicity of the piece and also helps with making it downloadable.
We also had ambitions to make a statement about people’s desire for objects today.
Vanity charms are 3D printed representations of what someone actually wants. They are symbols of the actual objects desired, playing with the question of whether or not symbols are enough. Someone can just like something, and can have it as a charm.
You also designed virtual flowers. Can you tell us about those?
MM: In the Virtual florist collection, we took defining characteristics of flowers and reversed them. Real flowers decay. With 3D printing you can freeze them. Real flowers are known for their colours. Virtual flowers are visually strong because of their absence of colour. Fresh flowers are flown all over the world. Since virtual flowers are distributed as information, they don’t have the constraint of location or season. You can have them anytime and anywhere without needing transportation. Real flowers and virtual flowers are perfect opposites of each other.
You have referenced Gerrit Rietveld designs in previous work such as Red blue Rietveld chair and Rietveld Lego Buffet. What was the influence in your downloadable furniture?
MM: We find the principles of Rietveld very relevant to the downloadable design platform. In his aim to make design accessible, he develops structures that are very sturdy and easy to make. His pieces work in many materials even with limited skills of the maker. The beauty of his work comes from the structure. The same principles drove our downloadable designs. The connections we developed for Inside-out furniture are 3D printed with custom dimensions so that they can match different sizes of wood. The only necessary intervention is to cut the wood to length and to drill the holes. No routing is necessary. Even without a CNC machine, someone can make our designs with a saw and a drill.
In our brief we asked you to imagine a business model for yourself. How do you see this?
MM: The big picture is to create an alternative to large scale productions. Downloadable design makes it possible to take production into a small—or, I would say, human—scale. Downloadable design makes many of the logistical issues—transportation, fuel, warehousing, complex machinery, materials, and so on no longer necessary. The whole industrial overhead becomes unnecessary.
In terms of own business model, one approach can be seen in the 3D connections we developed for Inside-out furniture. They can be adjusted to different dimensions of wood easily, they don’t need a mould to be produced, and they simplify the joining process. They are a proof of authenticity, a sort of signature, perhaps. The other parts can be sourced anywhere.
Are you not afraid that people will copy your blueprints?
MM: Downloadable design is like downloadable music. You buy the band t-shirt because you want to show that you like something and not because you have to. Paying for the signature shows your appreciation.