Distributed Design Platform

A model for post-growth production
A network of networks to connect and promote organisations involved in designing and creating alternatives to the norms of how things are designed, sold, distributed, and used


We need tools: things, materials, products, devices, infrastructures, machines, and components that allow us to do things. Who designs and makes these tools? In a globalised economy, they are conceived, manufactured, and eventually disposed of far away from their point of use, and with little opportunity for users to intervene in any of those stages: to customise these tools; to reuse, remake, or resell them; or to learn and develop skills in the process. Materials and products circulating in these closed loops are bound to become waste: late capitalism’s assertion of individual rather than collective ownership binds objects by their own obsolescence through infrastructures that distance people from the production of the things they use. 


Following the international maker movement and growing campaigns for a right to repair, the Distributed Design Platform—an initiative of Creative Europe—is a network of networks to connect, fund, and promote organisations involved in designing and creating alternatives to the norms of how things are designed, sold, distributed, and used. That alternative, “distributed design” is one in which processes of design, manufacture, and reuse are opened up: moving from a consumption-based to a participation-based material culture. Its name reflects Doughnut Economics’ call to “Design to Distribute”—not only wealth and resources, but also control

Despite its very material nature, Distributed Design is in many ways a direct result of the increasing accessibility of digital design and fabrication tools at smaller scales, and the resulting opportunities for mass factory-based production to be replaced by networks of manufacture. The Distributed Design Platform realises one such network by connecting design and educational programmes, “fab labs” and maker spaces, cultural-sector organisations and industry bodies through a “digital ecosystem” including existing networked initiatives such as make.works and fablabs.io. The Platform hosts events, produces publications, and generally serves to advocate for a form of open design which combines local and small-scale manufacture with wide-ranging international collaboration and knowledge sharing.1This form of interconnected infrastructure of small parts is also known as cosmopolitan localism or “cosmolocalism”. See COSMOLOCALISM | design global, manufacture local <https://www.cosmolocalism.eu> [accessed 25 October 2023]. By responding to the increasing digitalisation of both design and production—so-called “Industry 4.0”2Distributed Design Platform, ed., This Is Distributed Design: Making a New Local & Global Design Paradigm (Barcelona: Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, 2021) <https://distributeddesign.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/This-Is-Distributed-Design-Book-2021.pdf> [accessed 25 October 2023], p. 16.—the Platform aims to create a space through which designers can bring new open-source products and systems into the market. 

Allowing access to design processes, and open-sourcing product design, has very direct and material effects in relation to the consumptive and resource-heavy systems that dominate industrial design. The byproduct, which the Distributed Design Platform brings into the fore, is the associated effects on knowledge, skills, and capacity when control is distributed amongst a design ecosystem. That is, by creating new design processes and infrastructures, new types of hybrid designers emerge, where design knowledge is not confined within professional silos. As the Open-Design Education Network puts it: “we pursue the creation of innovative experiences that allow the flow of information and the socialization of knowledge […] promoting autarky, reciprocity, cooperative models, and commitment to the environment. Building spaces to nurture distributed design, then, also fosters the development of wider socio-economic-cultural innovations towards post-growth economies”3Bastian Lange and Hans-Joachim Bürkner, “Open Workshops as Sites of Innovative Socio-Economic Practices: Approaching Urban Post-Growth by Assemblage Theory”, Local Environment, 23.7 (2018), pp. 680-96 <https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2017.1418305>—and Distributed Design Platform becomes a model which challenges the assumptions of growth on which previous design models are based.