Preface / Bas van Abel, Lucas Evers & Roel Klaassen

Open design existed before the publication of this book, of course. At the end of the last century, it was defined as design whose makers allowed its free distribution and documentation and permitted modifications and derivations of it. More than a decade later, open design is developing actively and constitutes an influential trend in the world of design.

Bas van Abel Lucas Evers Roel Klaassen

Open design existed before the publication of this book, of course. The term first appeared at the end of the last century with the founding of the non-profit Open Design Foundation, which attempted to describe this new phenomenon. 1 The organization proposed necessary conditions for open design rather than attempting to comprehensively define it: open design was design whose makers allowed its free distribution and documentation and permitted modifications and derivations of it.2 Around the same time, Reinoud Lamberts launched the Open Design Circuits website 3 at Delft University of Technology for the purpose of developing integrated circuits in the spirit of open source software. The fashion industry was a notable early adopter of open design. 4 More than a decade later, open design is actively developing and has become an influential trend in the world of design. Open Design Now looks ahead to the future of design. Using key texts, best practices and a visual index, we sketch a picture of open design based on the knowledge and experience of the present moment. In doing so, we seek to contribute to the development of design practice and at the same time draw attention to the importance of open design among a broad audience of design professionals, students, critics and enthusiasts.


The three initiators of this book – Creative Commons CREATIVE COMMONS Netherlands; Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion; and Waag Society – represent three different but complementary perspectives on design. Sharing, design and innovation came together in a natural way in the (Un)limited Design project, which we began together in 2009. The first (Un)limited DesignContest EVENTS was intended as an open design experiment. Entrants could submit product designs on the condition that they shared their digital blueprints so others could modify and improve their designs or manufacture them using Fab Labs. Creative Commons licences allowed entrants to share their designs without relinquishing copyright. The contest elicited innovative and imaginative designs 5 and led directly to Open Design Now.


Digital technology and the internet have irrevocably changed our world. Millions of bloggers are providing serious competition for renowned media and news organizations. The entertainment industry struggles to capitalize on the vast growth of audiovisual consumption. A single individual with internet access can unbalance political relations all over the world. Writers and musicians no longer need printers, publishers, studios or record labels to take a shot at eternal fame. As equipment continues to get cleverer and cheaper, these developments are also affecting physical products and production processes. You can create a 3D design on your computer using free platforms like Thingiverse and make it freely available on a site like the Pirate Bay (or sell it on Etsy) so that it can be manufactured locally all over the world, digitally or otherwise, using a distributed manufacturing service like Shapeways.

Although technological progress is the driving force behind these new forms of design, distribution and production, we must look for and develop more satisfactory forms of intellectual property rights in the near future. The Creative Commons licences were designed to give creative people the freedom to deploy copyright in a flexible manner. They allow a creator to retain all rights while giving permission in advance for his or her work to be shared, distributed and modified – depending on the specific terms stated in the licence. While the licences can no longer be considered innovative, they are being applied in creative new ways. By putting open design on the agenda, Creative Commons Netherlands is expanding the use of open licences into the domain of product design and giving intellectual property back to its creators. After all, before an object is designed and produced, it leads a separate life as an idea, often taking on a range of forms during the process, from a sketch on a scrap of paper to the final CAD drawings used in production. Open licences can be used to protect every form in between. These licences smooth the way for creativity and innovation, but also remind us of a fundamental issue in design: that design cannot remain exclusive.

Digitization BLUEPRINTS has brought unprecedented growth to industries like industrial design, architecture, fashion and media. It has led to technological and professional changes that have also had great social significance. Open design offers unprecedented possibilities for the design of our surroundings, for design as a profession, and for designers – professionals and amateurs alike. The industrial era was mainly about designing products for the masses; in the post-industrial digital era, the masses themselves are seizing the chance to design, manufacture and distribute products.


It is perhaps not surprising that the Netherlands has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for open design. In a culture characterized by a continuous battle to hold the sea at bay, the Netherlands has built up a rich history in adapting and designing the human living SOCIAL DESIGN DesignSmashes,REMIX FairPhones, environment and can be considered one of the first modern democracies. The relatively open-minded society has allowed experimental design to flourish. This small country has a proportionally high number of designers, most of whom tend not to be highly specialized or tied to an industry. Consequently, they cannot limit themselves to one area and must remain open to other disciplines, inside the field of design and beyond. It is no coincidence that Premsela, the Dutch platform for design, encourages the development of an open design culture. In the 1990s, this mentality led to what became known as conceptual design. Today, a decade later, we can see that an open design philosophy is essential to coping with a changing world. Open Design Now!


Where do we go from here? Reading this book could be a good start. It has become an open project; anything else was hardly conceivable. Open Design Now is meant as a travel guide to the emerging and expanding world of international open design. Pore over it in your study, take it with you to work and discuss it with your colleagues, and allow it to inspire you. This book provides an overview of best practices in ‘creative innovation’, as Waag Society calls it. Or perhaps we should call it ‘social and participatory innovation’, since the term refers to the continuous search for meaningful applications of technology and design that will benefit the general population.

According to Paul Valéry 6, creativity springs less from one’s own ideas and originality than from a structure that compels new insights. CO-CREATION In his eyes, the true creative never stops searching. Creation itself is the work, the primary goal, an end in itself; in his view, your completed object is no different from anyone else’s. The same is essentially true of this book: it is not finished, nor can we claim full credit for its contents.

Textually, Open Design Now 7 is structured around feature articles and case studies. Visually, however, it is structured around images that show how open design has changed the way the world looks. Although many of the examples in this book are small in scale, they indicate the promise open design holds for the near future – a future of $50 prosthetic legs, Fritzing, Instructables Restaurants, COMMUNITY RepRaps and (Un)limited Design.

  1. Vallance, R, ‘Bazaar Design of Nano and Micro Manufacturing Equipment’, 2000. Available online at accessed on 17 january 2011. 
  2. The Open Design Definition, V. 0.2
  3. ;
  4. Bollier, D, and Racine, L, ‘Ready to Share. Creativity in Fashion & Digital Culture’. The Norman Lear Center: Annenberg, 2005. Available online at, accessed 17 january 2011.
  6. Valéry, P, ‘Cahier’, cited in
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