Making Futures Journal
Distributed Design: A Platform Approach Towards More Inclusive, Plural Futures for Design
The Context: Fab Labs and Fab City
A Hybrid Profile
Agriculture, Meeting Community Needs
Andre Rocha, designer and maker of GROUU Smart Nursery and Platform member representative of Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa attended the 2019 Tzoumakers workshop. The convivial space afforded by the physical lab which hosts an active user base and is embedded into the community, was successful for Rocha to ‘engage [with] local actors … even getting them onboard with the project’ (Rocha 2019). Rocha commented that the development of designs such as GROUU Smart Nursery that integrate modular digital technologies that may be adapted to address local needs, require a socialisation process and community acceptance in order to be successfully adopted into a territory (Rocha 2019) (Priavolou 2019). The physical space of Tzoumakers, which is connected to a commons and open design approach, not only provided the technical knowledge and know-how value but also sociocultural value. ‘Creating tools together and sharing that knowledge open-source is about empowering farmers to make their own tools, for the specific needs they have. But it’s also about building and strengthening community and cooperation in rural areas, which can be very isolated’ explains Tzoumakers co-founder Alekos Pantazis (King, 2019.)
Agriculture is a key activity in the peripheral and less-developed regions of the EU and a crucial productive sector (Priavolou 2019) and as such, the approaches developed by P2P and their collaborators are intended to provide benefit beyond the physical lab. Therefore, projects that have been developed by the Tzoumakers initiative are documented open source to ensure access to the knowledge and opportunity for implementation elsewhere. The DD Platform supports the diffusion of this open knowledge and aims to provide opportunities for it to be evolved into widely available cultural products such as on the project website as resources and documented in the 2019 book ‘Design, Remix, Share, Repeat’ self-published by the platform, which captured the experience of GROUU Smart Nursery.
Healthcare – Personalisation and Hyper-customisation
The Distributed Design Platform identifies a cluster of interest in healthcare from activities led by the two Milenese Platform members, Polifactory, the makerspace of Politecnico di Milano and the Fab Lab, OpenDot. This research has identified a series of unique benefits that are afforded by the application of distributed design principles. It also has given space for critical reflection on regulation and standardisation in the medical sector.
Polifactory engages a user-centric design innovation methodology to facilitate a co-design process between patients, domestic carers, designers and health or care professionals. Next Steps was an experimental initiative delivered as a DD Platform local activity which brought together biotechnology company Sanofi Genzyme, a patient support association for families living with glycogenesis Associazione Italiana Glicogenosi (AIG) and designers and makers from the makerspace Polifactory. The process included a collaborative needs assessment and co-creation process that explored creative solutions with the patient innovators (Bianchini and Maffei 2019). The outputs of the processes included four mobility aids: removable protective skins for crutches; an IOT device to improve the control of a walker; open source components to personalise standard walking aids and a made-to-measure 3D printed walking stick using parametric design. They were exhibited at European Maker Faire Rome as part of the local Platform activities.
OpenDot, an independent Fab Lab has been following a similar action-research and innovation approach through a collaboration with Together to Go Foundation (TOG), a Milan-based foundation for the rehabilitation of children suffering from complex neurological diseases. The collaboration has led to a co-design method based on eight principles to ‘design with, not for people with disabilities’ (Mandelli 2019). The process draws on participatory and inclusive design approaches, but utilises parametric and open design to create shareable designs for healthcare aids that can be customised to different sizes or situations. An example can be seen in Lorenzo’s Bike a design project that aimed to create a bicycle suitable for Lorenzo and his family. They required a bike that could fit Lorenzo’s mobility needs but was not as expensive as a new family car! A design was realised using OpenDot and TOG’s eight principals in collaboration with Lorenzo, his carers, family and physiotherapist. OpenDot designers employed ‘three-dimensional parametric modelling … the designer only needed to edit one parameter in an equation for the other parameters to get adjusted automatically’ (Mandelli 2019). This meant that very simply, by design, the bike could be hyper-customised to not only meet Lorenzo’s needs, but also meet the needs of other children. The outcome of this, is that Lorenzo’s Bike design has also become a bike design for Viola and Shaig (Mandelli 2019). The digital layer of tools in this case, becomes crucial to the design process, but it doesn’t define the outcome anymore so than the co-design process or the original need. These elements are complimentary and each is necessary to the project’s success.