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Hacking Frank Tjepkema

Open source computer software has been a resounding success while open source design is still in an experimental stage inviting lots of unanswered questions.  We chat with Frank Tjepkema.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 20-08-2009

Open design – creativity based on publicly shared information in the manner of open source software – has become a hot topic in Holland with events like Hacking at Random and the (Un)limited Design Contest, which covers form, food and fashion design.

Product designer, Frank Tjepkema, along with food designer Marije Vogelzang and jewelry designer Zelda Beauchampet will give one of three workshops during the Unlimited Design Contest event.

Tjepkema first toyed with the concept of open source design back in 2003 with his Signature Vase for Droog.  “Open source wasn’t really an issue back then,” he says, “but it is what it was.  We were trying to move design thinking back to the consumer who could participate in the design of the object in an intuitive way even if it was only by contributing their signature.”

Open source is a relatively new phenomenon and is rife with contradictions, but it is also one of the most exciting movements the industry has recently seen.

“As a designer, I still think of design as a profession,” says Tjepkema, “and of course my livelihood depends on that.”

Tjepkema is still sorting through how this movement will impact on the industry and how it will find its natural place.  “Like with the Signature Vase, I don’t think consumers should be at total liberty to run wild with a concept,” he says.  “If you give them too much choice, you’ll end up with something ugly just like if everyone made their own music, it would never sound good.”

Likewise, just because everyone has access to Photoshop software doesn't mean that everyone can call him or herself a graphic designer.

But where open source design is interesting is when it focuses more on production and  the democratization of tools.  “Maybe you can adjust the height or the colour before printing out a design in 3d,” says Tjepkema.  “In that way, we as designers are delegating a part of the choice without denying our role.”

Everyone is not going to be drawn to events like the (Un)limited Design Contest.  “It’s still going to be attracting creative people who are interested in design and the process of creation, “ says Tjepkema. “But what’s good, is that usually these people would not be able to access the means to achieve their ideas.”

Fablab studios are in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht and are where amateurs can go through to October 12 to develop and produce their design concepts for the (Un)imited Design Contest.  Fablab was originally an American initiative, but is now a worldwide movement.  “And I think Holland is at the forefront of open source thinking in the world of design because the idea of self-producing designers who leave industry out of the equation has been around for more than a decade,” says Tjepkema.

And especially in times like these – any opportunity to move production away from a centralized hub such as Asia and into our own home is going to be seen as a positive. "On a more philosophical level, what I really like about open source is the idea of self determination," says Tjepkema.  " Being able to influence your physical environment in a personal way, without the intervention of regulations, industry or global brands. I can dream of visiting a neighborhood where everybody was given the liberty to design and produce his own house, thanks to totally new and very personal production techniques. Imagine if you could print your house with by clicking a button on a huge 3D printer.

“But as with the music industry, one of the biggest issues down the track is going to be copyright,” he continues.  “As a professional, I need to earn an income off what I design so even though open source is interesting, I have mixed feelings as well. It seems that to survive and to not be a victim, I’ll need to be at the forefront of developments."

The (Un)limited Design Contest is a project by Premsela – Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, and the  Waag Society in cooperation with the Dutch Fablabs and Creative Commons.  To enter contact one of three Fablabs in Holland - Amsterdam, The Hague or Utrecht between 13 August and 12 October.

First two small images from top by Goof van Beek.

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