Design for download: an interview with Droog’s Agata Jaworska

'Box-o-rama' and 'Façades & functions' by Eventarchitectuur, were some of the products shown in Milan in April 2011 as part of Droog's exhibition showing initial outcomes of their design for download project.

A new scenario is predicted – design via download – digitalised design, fabrication and even delivery. Pixels are transformed to three-dimensional objects via online programs that generate digital blueprints. Consumers view a product online, use software to choose materials and customise the design to suit their requirements. The design is then manufactured using digital fabrication technology within a sophisticated lab or someone’s garage; alternatively, you receive instructions to make it yourself. Droog’s Agata Jaworska spoke to Vogue Living about the design for download project and the concept of open design – an approach that brings consumers and other collaborators into the creative process – for ‘Complete Fabrication’ a story on page 117 of Vogue Living Sept/Oct 2011 that maps the rapidly evolving area.

Vogue Living: In what way is Droog’s design for download project an example of open design?

Agata Jaworska: It is open design in the sense we are working at bringing people into the design process and creating more interactive products. For example, we launched the ‘Do’ series of products in the early 2000s which was all about open design. Basically, we are looking at how you design tools for users so they can also become designers to an extent, which you can see in the products that we showed at our recent exhibition at Milan Design Week. For example, ‘Box-o-rama’ by Eventarchitectuur is a drag and drop system where users can drag boxes, scale them and combine them to create a shelving system. The program does everything else automatically and doesn’t allow users to create something that won’t work structurally. It will put in structural braces if necessary and resolves all the details automatically based on just dragging and dropping and scaling of boxes. So it makes the process fun for the user and not frustrating. Because really solving design from scratch is difficult and most people can’t do that, or choose not to do it because they have other things to do.

VL: At what point was it decided that Droog would engage people via an online interface as opposed to simply giving people the opportunity to intervene in the products at home as the brand has done with past products?

AJ: The back story to that is that we opened a store in New York in 2009 with an interior designed by Studio Makkink & Bey. The staircase had this CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) cut wall which housed CNC cut furniture within it that could be taken out and used. So those CNC products had the potential to be downloadable and so forth and part of the concept was that you could customise them. That same year in Milan we showed the next step of that development which was a house that was also CNC cut. And those projects are kind of what spurred the interest in downloadable design.

On the other hand, Droog is interested in developing new models for the design, distribution and production of design. Downloadable design is a whole chain redesigned and we are interested in innovating on both levels – on a system level and a product level. We’re always looking at structural innovation of supply chains for design – innovation on the level of the system behind design, not just innovative product design. We are interested in what the interaction will be with the user. How is a product distributed? What parts are transported? What parts are digital? Some other examples of that system based approach can be seen in the Saved by Droog exhibition which was shown in Milan in 2010 where we asked designers to use waste.

Studio Makkink & Bey’s interior for the Droog New York store was one inspirations for the design for download project featuring a CNC cut feature wall and furniture.

VL: Is innovating on a system basis via design for download and in projects such as
Saved by Droog, motivated by a desire to minimise the potential environmental impact of Droog products?

AJ: If you want to talk about waste yes, Saved by Droog looks at existing products as new material, redesigning the existing and using it as potential energy and input for the next product. It is also about saving creative energy. Sometimes for example, we design cutlery and if you give the designer the brief to design new cutlery they will think about materials and shape and all this. Part of the Saved by Droog collection is about saying – why think about the next shape of cutlery when there is so much good cutlery already exists? So it takes that thinking to the next level, using existing forms to create a different kind of innovation, rather than starting from scratch again.

We are always looking for new bodies of ideas that use the existing to come up with something new. With designing for download, it is about coming up with an alternative to the current system of production and distribution. We are not necessarily taking a stance to say one system is necessarily more sustainable than the other, it is not like we have calculated the difference in the level of sustainability because it is a very complex process that has to do with very specific situations. We are not at that point of detail in our developments, but theoretically design for download does save transport as it is a different mode of production which is much more local, where the ideas are global but the actual materials and products stay local. That is I think the ideal situation, where you don’t ship materials but you ship ideas, and that is what downloadable design is.

Virtual florist by Minale Maeda for Droog’s design for download project features flowers that have been 3D printed in polyamide.

VL: In the last year and a half rapid prototyping and digital printing services has become a lot cheaper and more easily accessible by designers and the public, is that part of why this project is happening now?

AJ: The rise in cheaper technology has meant a rise in different user habits. Open design is a very trendy and hot topic right now, a lot of people are working in this area. We decided to step in because we think we have some unique capacities and that we could find a unique angle within this trendy topic area. So our actual platform has some unique features such as our emphasis on curated design. The stance we take is that as design becomes more open and more democratic, the design of the tools becomes the critical thing. How much choice do the consumers or the users have?

VL: Droog establishes the parameters of the designs tools and decides how much freedom to give the user – how are those parameters decided upon?

AJ: As a designer you have to think “If I give the user this realm of freedom that is going to give them this realm of possible outcomes.” That’s totally a matter of design. Those are design decisions. You have to design a certain amount of freedom and hand over a certain amount. And you also have to give the user the means to participate by designing the interfaces and making programs and program tools.

VL: The role of the designer appears to change in this scenario, is their position being usurped in any way by opening up the process and allowing others to participate?

Designers have shifted from designing the end result, something with no options for the consumer to interact with, to shifting to designing of the tools. But in design for download the design of the tools is just as controlled as the design of the final product. Design is a window of opportunity for the user to interact and this interaction gives the user a feeling of creativity. The feeling is real but that process is designed which is interesting. Basically the designer is designing the template or the starting point and also the tools for design. So even though it is “open design” – it is a heavily designed process – and also if you look at the other open design movements, which for example, provide a grid system online that allows you to manufacture products, even though this grid is a kit of parts that lets people do “anything” it is really a very heavily designed system. Somebody still has to design the grid. It is very controlled. In open design, the role of the designer doesn’t diminish – it just changes.

It is a lot of work to bring people into the design process and have good outcomes, outcomes that are satisfactory both for the user and for the designer. Because you know we ask the designers “What if the users design something that is ugly based on your template?” I think most designers in that situation feel that they designed the template and control it to some extent but there is a sense that they don’t care if the outcome is ugly. Alternatively, they know their design won’t become ugly because they have designed so as not to give that kind of freedom.

VL: Since we are talking about authorship and opening up participation, if someone customises a product on the Droog interface that is then manufactured, will it still be considered a Droog design?

AJ: The platform will not be branded Droog but will have its own name – Make Me – and there will be different brands. Droog will be one of them but there will be other shops within shops – you can think of it that way. So the business models of each shop will be set by their owner who will also curate the design within the store and set the rules, on intellectual property rights for example.

For the Droog shop on the platform we will invite specific designers to design for download. Two of the designers that were exhibited in Milan – Eventarchitectuur and Minale Maeda – we have already asked them to design for our label within Make Me so those indeed are Droog products designed by different designers.

Mario Minale’s ‘Red blue Lego’ chair for Droog is indicative of the designer’s playful approach to design.

VL: Why were Eventarchitectuur and Minale Maeda chosen as the first studios to design for the Design for Download system?

We had existing relationships with those studios. Minale Maeda have also been working with Droog over the last several years and their work is about open design. Mario Minale worked on the Lego version of the ‘Red Blue’ chair by Gerrit Rietveld. Rietveld wanted to publish his designs through an open system so others could copy them and so we wanted to have the Lego version of his design as an open thing but  copyright laws prevented us from being able to. So we had to sell it as a limited edition piece, which is also an interesting story related to open design. Also Minale Maeda worked on a Lego buffet which was recently shown in Basel, Switzerland. Similarly, Eventarchitectuur has an approach that is quite founded on the philosophy of openness. It is really embedded in their philosophy.

VL: Will you curate the other brands that are allowed to design on
Make Me?

AJ: Participation will be by invitation so yes it is not like any brand can just come on board. But the platform will also have a completely open component where anybody can upload anything and that’s more anything goes where there’ll be no quality control and no curation involved. So I think there will be two different user groups on the website. I guess it is also an experiment to see what will come out in the open area, I can imagine maybe some designs will become popular. Perhaps there will be a process of research and development happening in the open sphere that the curated sphere can learn from and adopt.

VL: Do you envisage the open side of the website to have a strong community around it?

AJ: Yes, I think that is a really important that there is a sense of community and that people can reach out to one another and share what they have done. That definitely builds momentum and could be the engine behind Make Meand the thing that propels it. I think that being part of a community will have a much bigger impact on selling and buying in the future than it does now. I mean that is definitely happening already, communities and being part of a community is driving purchasing behaviour. Droog wants to have a community around our projects so another thing we are working on is the creation of a point system on our website where if you influence someone else in your community to buy something from Droog you get points. So we are also innovating the shop experience, learning from things like Facebook, or tapping into those kinds of online community forming habits.

Belgian’s Materialise is one international company that provides 3D printing and rapid prototyping services. Their .MGX by materialise division was one of the first to produce design led 3D printed consumer products. The company also provides i.materialise a service that allows those with 3D modeling skills to upload their digital design and have it 3D printed from a choice of twenty different materials. These videos show how laser sintering and 3D printers work, building models up from bottom to top, layer by layer.

VL: I want to discuss manufacturing. When you design a product on Make Me and press order, you are given the option to make it yourself or have it manufactured and sent to you. Where will that manufacturing occur?

AJ: We are creating an international network of manufacturers that are both low and high-tech. So some of them are more involved in CNC and computer-aided design and manufacturing. On the other hand we will also have low-tech manufacturers, because with design for download, you can also download very simple instructions, for example, how to fold a piece of paper. So that is an example of a design that doesn’t have to be computer-aided. It ties in to this idea we like of revisiting low-tech workshops through this high-tech global platform.

VL: Are the manufacturers going to be worldwide?

AJ: Yes. It is a huge project and to be honest, I am not sure if we will start to phase it in, or how exactly we will manage to get all these manufacturers around the world, and arrangements with all of them. People in our team are working on the logistics, but it is a big task and we depend on partners and stuff for that.

VL: How does open design and downloadable design work in terms of intellectual property?

AJ: In many situations a creative commons license could apply so consumers are allowed to copy the design but not reproduce it for commercial purposes. All the intellectual property concepts we are leaving up to the decision of the individual brands that are on the platform. So anyone who uploads an image can choose the license that should go with it. And in some situations for example, the actual blueprint for the design might not be uploaded. It might be that you see the design, you participate in the design – if there is some kind of co-creation possible – you hit the purchase button and the file gets sent directly to your nearest manufacturer and is made and delivered to your house. So there might like user interaction tools build into the interface but you might never actually see the design. But that’s up to each brand to decide. We expect innovation from the designer in response to all those kind of questions. We would like to challenge designers and ask them – how do you deal with intellectual property rights? How do you respond to the notion say of limited editions on a platform like this?

The other thing is that we imagine that designers could design products that are not a one-time download but that have a longer term downloading structure or lifespan. So you could download upgrades to your furniture or download other services perhaps and maybe with downloads, it is coupled with something physical that needs to happen. So this is sort of how we brief the designer and we are still going to be looking for more innovations in those directions.

Components of Eventarchitectuur’s Box-o-rama shelving system laid out for assembly. It was an objective of the design for download project that consumers be able to assemble their own design on delivery.

AJ: There is a bit of a trend or a return to “do it yourself” that has been going on for a while, so it is not particularly new. There are more tools that enable you to do things yourself now with the global distribution of ideas that occurs through downloadable design, also with the new production technologies that you mentioned earlier. There are some tools that are becoming available and people are doing other things themselves more, like producing their own videos and publishing via YouTube. The public is becoming more engaged with making.

But I think it is important to understand that we don’t assume that people will have the incentive to make the pieces themselves and that’s why the platform incorporates a click and deliver system as well. We want the user to be able to choose how much they want to get involved. We don’t have moral beliefs that people should make design themselves. We don’t think that is any better than other people doing it and it certainly doesn’t assume that everybody is going to start making everything themselves. Because this is not going to change the world, it is just going to give people more options.

VL: When will the Make Me website with interface go live?

AJ: It is planned for this year.

To read more about downloadable design and digital fabrication technologies read ‘Complete Fabrication’ on page 117 of Vogue Living Sept/Oct 2011.
Visit here to read an interview with Eventarchitectuur’s founder Herman Verkerk.

Interview: Madeleine Hinchy
Photographs: Eventarchitectuur, Davide Lovatti
Video: i.materialise

4 Responses to “Design for download: an interview with Droog’s Agata Jaworska”
  1. rajendra says:

    its supurb

  2. rajendra says:


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  1. […] Filed under Interviews · Tagged with Design for download, Droog, Vogue Living Sept/Oct 2011 ← Vogue Living 2011 Design Series Dinner: Il Lido in Perth Design for download: an interview with Droog’s Agata Jaworska → […]

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