The Significance Of Signature

From Beyond Social

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What are the ramifications for artists and designers of (online) sharing, disseminating knowledge and creating open products or processes? The Open Design programme investigates this new kind of ‘open authorship’ through projects where artists/designers and participants meet. We are not exploring open design exclusively in an instrumental way (such as designing for ‘social innovation’), but we intend to do this more fundamentally, by questioning its definition, critically investigating its possibilities, and defining its significance for artists, designers and users.

Author: Deanna Herst

Designing for ‘openness’

Designing for ‘openness’, participation or user appropriation opens up questions regarding the designer’s ‘signature’ and the space for experimentation or artistic expression. Designing for this kind of uncertainty is often associated with giving up artistic control and authorship. Within this context, and because the WdKA educates designers and artists (rather than social workers or administrators), we explicitly investigate the often overlooked aesthetic perspective on open design (open form, Umberto Eco), in addition to its roots in technology (open source, digital fabrication) and participatory design (Pelle Ehn). The programme’s questions include: what is openness in art and design? Can an open product or process leave room for expression by both designer and user? What are artistic participatory strategies within the context of sharing, participation and user iteration? How can we secure the goal of an open project and take care of open design’s ‘orphans’, the many online open products without any afterlife?

Non-expert experts

This year’s minor was titled ‘A Collection and Compendium of Unusual Knowledge’. The starting point was a project in V2, Rotterdam (curator: Michelle Kasprzak) titled ‘Non-Expert Experts’ and focusing on ‘amateurs’ who have developed into professionals in some unique field, such as giant pumpkins or DIY radio. Their unusual yet valuable knowledge often remains unknown to a wider audience. Students opened up the non-expert expert’s skills to allow the world to benefit from their knowledge. They explored a wide range of communities resulting in a broad spectrum of subject areas: from detainees to wheelchair users, from beekeepers to roadkill experts, from mini-vegetable lovers to survivalists, from oscillator experts to open knitting enthusiasts, and from refugees as passionate professionals to amateur storm chasers.

Embrace and work with the uncertainty

This variety was also reflected in the students’ interpretations of openness. ‘Wheelshare’ by advertising student Wietske Lutgendorff focused on wheelchair users as experts of obstacles in their own environment. She provided them with a DIY toolkit for a 3D-printed smartphone holder. This tool enabled them to film their inaccessible environment and share it on an online platform ( Designed to show a kaleidoscopic collage of the different views and camera angles, this platform represented the community’s diverse identity. Another online repository is ‘Exchange Knitting’, by fashion student Yvonne Swiers. In this project, knitting experts shared their unique techniques online. Yvonne asked them to also send her their samples, which she then used as the basis for her collection. Both designers, each in their own individual way, embraced and worked with the uncertainty of the community’s contributions, which is an aspect that embodies the essence of open design. They showed that designing for the unknown can lead to unexpected collective collections; new design territories where the designer’s signature faces the user’s needs, fears and fantasies.

Deanna Herst is a Research Lecturer at the WdKA, PhD researcher Open Design.


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