(Un)Limited Design contest
Openness in Vitro

Maria Neicu

Openness is no longer only seen in the context of open software; it has become a broadly applicable concept, carried by the digital in the analogue world. Design tools are in user’s hands now, as access to software programs and machines (such as laser cutters or embroidery machines) is opened up in the new context of digital fabrication. Openness has been picking up momentum, but has not yet hit its high point.

Amateurs AMATEURISSIMO seem well-equipped to take on the stage of combining crafts with high-tech: they no longer expect professionals to tell them what is right and wrong. As design is being opened, experts have to re-legitimize their professions in the face of a high demand “for other kinds of taste construction”. 1

But access alone is not sufficient to achieve this goal. Access is only half-way to openness. If it never progresses beyond access, openness is just a popular bit of OPEN EVERYTHING rhetoric, an over-used “fashionable label”. 2 But what does it take to move further? The other part of the journey is collaboration – the only way to give amateurs the opportunity to make a change. This is the only way for openness to bring serious societal relevance to this profession. If both access andcollaboration CO-CREATION wereattained,thenboth amateurs and experts would reach a new mindset – one that thinks beyond design. A first initiative in this sense is the (Un)limited Design Contest. EVENTS Under the auspices of a design competition, the event provides a context for testing Openness in vitro:

Firstly, it provides Access: opportunities, tools and social recognition for the work of non-experts. Everyone that has an idea can bring it to life: participants are encouraged to create prototypes tailored to their subjectivity. Design becomes invitational.

Secondly, it re-connects design with crafts: Crafts are no longer about working only with things, physical objects, but also with entities of intangible value, like symbols, people and networks; these entities are starting to be considered more and more intellectually engaging. KNOWLEDGE As the status of artisanal work done by hand is upgraded by the addition of a symbolic capital, a new awareness is brought to bear on the artefacts around us, and especially on how we can act upon them. Open design causes a shift in our relationship with the stuff we use, bend, break, wear, consume and eventually throw away. It does justice to what these items are really worth. On the one hand, this brings back to us an ancestral sense of curiosity about the artefacts with which we fill our worlds; on the other hand, it demands that we re-think our responsibility in the way we interact with them.

And thirdly, the contest brings people together: experimenting to see whether “shared thinking” can actually happen. The (Un)limited Design Contest SHARING comes as a line of defence: an attempt to prove that openness can move beyond a transitory buzzword, and that collaboration CO-CREATION is possible, transforming design as a profession into a valuable part of future society. As shown by the (Un)limited Design Contest, the value of an object design is expressed in its potential for being taken beyond its original confines. The ‘unfinished’ nature of the script offers the intangible value of an open design. BLUEPRINTS The derivatives are not perceived as ‘corrective’ in this sense. The existence of derivatives does not mean that your original is incomplete or malfunctioning – on the contrary! When others are mixing, mashing and transforming your design script, they are offering their greatest compliment. It is the prize offered by the community: proof that your idea is valuable and considered worthy of further development. By improving your idea, the collaborators are actually approving it.

Adopt and Improve

In open design, adopting and improving is a way of cherishing. The moral is that nothing gets modified unless it is worthy of the time it will take to modify it or add innovations. Humans are limited in their creational power, so togetherness becomes a pre-requisite for socio-technological innovation: different life stories, mindsets and knowledge experiences are added by other participants, enriching each open design project. These initial efforts are only the beginning; this experiment has to be repeated. The first steps towards fruitful collaboration have already made. Design is fully engaged in the re-shaping process, and openness seems to be breeding a new design culture – a culture that is still under construction.


  1. Roel Klaassen, Premsela
  2. Victor Leurs, Featuring-Amsterdam
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