Along with this interview with Massimo Menichinelli, my second collaboration phase with Digicult begins. After being interviewing the leading live media artists during the past years , I believe I fairly cleared my mind up on what is going on in that field , and I hope to have also supplied at least narrowly i nteresting readings, to those who bothered reading me.
I am nowadays having the strong impression that several branches of new media art have basically lost much of the innovation potential they used to be characterized by.Festivals are mushrooming, bringing lots of redundancies and few excellencies, heralding the process through which many forms of expression are being institutionalized, that is, recognized by academies, galleries, the press and even by advertising . The “gurus”/”leading lights” keep on making remarkable works, occasionally some new somebody emerges, capable of drawing the public through unexplored territories.However, for me, the main picture seems altogether to be substantially less stimulating. No harm done. The world goes on.
It is consequently this sense of stagnation, anyways , that I decided to inaugurate a new path along with Digicult , sharing with readers parts of the research I as a sociologist, am undertaking in the area of recent cultural economics transformations, of peer-to-peer (P2P) and of open design. Whilst the attention of most of us was focusing/focused on the media and ICT giants attempt to monopolize the web, a number of rapid, radical transformations from the bottom began to dispute material and immaterial production structures revivifying and systematizing practices that were already familiar to hacker, hacktivist and libertarian cultures.
The most well-known names to readers might be Yochai Benler, author of “The Wealth of Networks”, and Michel Bauwens, who wrote “The Political Economy of Peer Production”. Besides them, however, a thick network rapidly developed on a global level, testing the application of peer-to-peer and commons’ principles to a strikingly wide range of fields, going from city-planning to prosthetics, through design and material production (last but not least the shining example of how p2p revolutionized our ways of operating as social and economic beings in the world: open source softwares).
This is a world whose boundaries are constantly expanding and interbreeding, where practices and definitions unceasingly multiply.For this reason, coherently with the features of the subject, I would solicit readers to look up for unfamiliar terms on Wikipedia and on Foundation for P2P Alternatives website.
It is precisely due to the dazing acceleration of these fields that I chose to start by interviewing Massimo Menichinelli, founder on 2006 of openp2pdesign.org a blog that in 2010 turned into an open-source community aimed to find and develop complex collaborative projects for territories and communities. The core of his activity is indeed entirely methodological and planning, and it is my belief that nothing could be better than some good old methodology to tackle complex phenomena.
Designer Massimo Menichinelli’s work concerns professional activity, research and projects regarding the introduction of Open and P2P dynamics in designing processes in connection with communities and territories. He is interested in the relation design is developing along with territory, communities and complexity, adopting practices and principles which originated within software phenomena Open Source, peer-to-peer and Web 2.0 in order to develop focused interventions on local communities that would support their self-organization for the improvement of local conditions.
Through these researches, in 2005 he started developing Open P2P Design planning method, created in first place for planning processes for and together with Communities/Localities (a community together with its territory) with the aim to achieve a collaborative activity which should breed initiatives of opened and social innovation (Open Innovation / Social Innovation). method. Hence, design seen not only as an aesthetic and formal mean, but also as a tool to organize and facilitate systems, processes, open projects.
Bertram Niessen: Reading through your website, the subjects of posts range from social service design to car design. How would you then define open p2p design field of application/action?
Massimo Menichinelli: Open P2P Design is the proposal of a new design method for the co-designing of open and peer-to-peer collaborative activities with/for communities, through an indeed open and shared process aimed to co-plan such active collaborations. A community-centered design, in short. I began developing this method in reaction to a lack: albeit the definite presence of an interest in replicating open and p2p organization patterns, the matter has so far been faced uniquely through implementing the use of dedicated software and technologies, missing a proper social planning (with the result on a sometimes ineffective approach).
The fields in which this can be applied are potentially vast and still being defined. Think about the various cases of open methods implementation: we go from biotechnologies to mineral processing, like Goldcorp Inc. used them for! In sum, these systems can be applied to any activity we are aiming to turn into an open and collaborative one, or on top of that wherever it is thought that a cooperative activity might solve a specific issue through the presence of active participants.
Open P2P Design is not the planning of communicative artifacts neither commodities, but rather a collaborative activity (for instance design of services and other disciplines), which would itself be dedicated to the matter to be tackled (maybe then through the cooperative planning of a communicative artifact or some commodity). I chose not to bound Open P2P Design action field solely to design since it would be limiting and also because it can actually represent a further way to diffuse open and peer-to-peer principles and dynamics.
Open P2P Design method can as a general principle be applied wherever it is desired to arise a collaborative activity, both in already existing communities and in ones to be created.
We can develop cooperative activities within firms businesses as well as collaborate with them to create community-based cooperative businesses. An example of this is Open Innovation initiatives, where instead of merely catching informations or offering activities where users/communities don’t have an option to intervene, it is chosen to really co-create together with a community the development of open innovation. We can also initiate collaborations within a firm, in case the sole adoption of a software appears to be insufficient to generate the aimed collaboration (i.e. the current Enterprise 2.0 approach).
On top of that we might even develop community-based businesses, as it happened with GiffGaff telephone company, in which some of the company tasks are preformed by users (and examples might continue with mass customization). I also believe users and communities must be involved in ‘bottom of the pyramid’ targeted businesses, in order to avert inadequate suggestions (see The Onionsatirical article in this regard), establishing an equal debate instead.
Concerning public administration, it is interesting to examine the Open Government form: this definition presently refers to the publication of government owned data, put under open licenses in order to facilitate citizens and organizations to independently visualize and present them. This move aims to increase institutions‘ transparency in order to allow citizens to be more aware of public management and hence making aware choices. A big step forward, nonetheless we could push ourselves further, for instance developing open p2p and collaborative public services, as RED Unit del Design Council did in Britain. A further step forward might be turning activities that are now governments’ and public administrations’ prerogative activities into open, collaborative ones, as the documentary “Us Now” thoroughly shows .
Finally, public administrations can adopt this method in case they might need/want to develop collaborative networks within a definite territory or city, concerning the field of social development enterprises willing to reinforce local social and economic networks.
Furthermore, this system can be applied in order to develop creative projects such as Open Hardware e Open Design conceived as Open product design as well as Open Web Design, Open Interaction Design, Open Font Design, Open Movie Design, Open Game Design, Open Architecture and Open Fashion Design, just to give some examples.
We must notice, though, that all these examples currently consider Open Design simply publishing one or several files under a free-share license. I.e. no one conceives involvement and collaboration as starting points on which to build up an active community, whereas those would be pivotal points in the process Open P2P Design advocates. Moreover, the project, namely the website openp2pdesign.org, is an open source community aimed to study and develop projects on social systems, collaborative systems and complex systems: we are going to use Open P2P Design method to define its very way of functioning.
Bertram Niessen: How do you articulate the relationship between design and metadesign in your approach?
Massimo Menichinelli: The concept of Metadesign (or metaproject) still isn’t largely known among designers, yet it is sonly spreading, being defined and developed; this is shown for instance by the increasing number of designers using Processing to program their softwares. Basically metadesign means designing the designing process of material, immaterial and cognitive artifacts. The interest towards metadesign represents a growing awareness about design means and processes and the influence these elements have on final results; an awareness proving to be more and more essential in view of social and economic changes, entailing consequent changes in the projects.
Also, if we are willing to involve users in the designing process we will immediately realize that the final outcome is no longer fully controllable and that is much more convenient to structure and plan the process itself, rather than the final result (which will be affected by community and users inputs). Therefore an approach becoming increasingly essential in Open Design projects, projects that we can also, as a matter of fact, consider all as Metadesign projects where the releasing of the first source code is nothing but a tool for the community to arise.
In Open P2P Design, Metadesign is even more deep at the roots : we neither plan the final result we aim to obtain (solving some specific problem) nor the collaboration activity that will design and act to obtain such result. Actually what we do is to design the process and the tools we will use together with a community, to co-design for the community itself a collaboration activity.
Furthermore, this metadesign feature makes Open P2P Design applicable on three possible levels: 1) metadesign of cooperation activities for problem solving aims sorted by communities (for example for an Open Design project); 2) metadesign of collaborative activities which plan/realize tools and processes for other collaboration activities (for example, for the designing and production of Fabbring technologies); 3) Metadesign of collaboration activities that re-plan Open P2P Design method itself.
The importance of the metadesign approach consists in enhancing the project’s potential to suit the actual user‘s, communitie‘s and market‘s needs (amongst the main incentives for the opening of design processes to a wide participation). Moreover, Open P2P Design is an open source method itself, thus not only being willing to evolve but also to be modified and further adapted for each specific local context and its needs.
Bertram Niessen: Co-design strong points are now pretty clear, at least in their claims: being cross-sectional, they make the most out of collective intelligence etc. Which are its main limitations?
Massimo Menichinelli: Co-design and basically all Open and P2P Systems are facing three main limitations at the moment: one connected with participation, the second to the understanding of open dynamics and the third concerning the actual possibility to realize these projects. The participation issue is crucial, although often being overlooked or taken for granted. To ensure a wide and rich (not excessively homogeneous) participation is far from being an easy thing to achieve and the risk is to impoverish and nullify a project based on co-design processes.
Participation often tends to follow flows of most influent tendencies , where not all the participants contribute equally to the project but only a few of them do it actively. A way must be found for metadesign projects, to not only involve a large number of people but also to actively implicate their diversity of knowledge and experiences, averting the influence being dictated by only a handful of participants.
Besides, participation is mainly based on the skills and knowledge needed in each specific phase of the design process. Therefore it is necessary to pay attention that these skills are distributed among a sufficient number of people easy to be in touch with and aim to valorize them and their developments. It might otherwise become a great limitation for any co-design project: it is crucial in order to be able to co-design projects together with users and communities, that these people ‘exist’ or that conditions are favorable for helping these people to arise and improve, otherwise both the very necessity for the project and the resources that enrich it become pointless.
Lastly, the tools we choose/design will also be an element of influence on the number of people that will be able to actually participate. An Open Design project thought for being developed collaboratively only on, say, an iPhone might be interesting, but only someone who owns one will be able to collaborate. Thus it is crucial to lower the barriers and allow access the design process.
For what concerns the understanding of open and co-design projects, we are slowly exiting a phase in which mass-collaboration has been glorified as a all-comprehensive panacea and the real change that this type of collaboration brings to pubic and private organizations have been scarcely considered. Cases of collaborative dynamics and/or open and p2p employment happened in isolated contexts and not always along with a proper methodological consideration on which the limits and fields of application might be.
It is certain that further initiatives in research and publication are now essential since the lack of full comprehension of these dynamics among the ones studying them, employing them and what’s more in society itself, is remarkable. A criticism often addressed to co-design processes, for instance, is the fact that its timings are too long: the truth is that the actual dynamics and timings of design productive processes are not always fully understood, and anyways through a metadesign approach it is possible to plan projects including a variable number of participants, hence entailing variations in timings according to what’s needed.
For those in charge of the organization of these Open Design projects and collaborative activities, the main limitations consist in the lack of services, the fact that they still are in an embryonic phase or that they still require considerable economic resources. Anyhow, costs are dropping and presently the price of a 3D printer is lower than laser printers prices in 1985.
The software used to develop collaborative projects have consistent limitations as well. Above all the fact that having these softwares which have been created by programmers for programmers, work perfectly in a collaborative work based on code or text, yet not so well if used to work collaboratively on images, drawings, videos and 3D models. Still, it takes just a little bit of hacking of the softwares in use, no need to write even a single line of code, to trick the boundaries although these will remain a high barrier to access design processes until these problem are solved.
Bertram Niessen: During the last couple of years a great enthusiasm about desktop manufacturing field arose (where personal computers are used to control 3D printers which create physical objects bypassing traditional industrial centralized production). In your opinion, will open design methods be mainly (or more satisfyingly) applied in this area or will they also find an implementation in industrial production?
Massimo Menichinelli: For what I’ve seen in my experience, I reckon that a lot depends on local situations, both in terms of technologies, productive power and local strategies and conveniences. Desktop Manufacturing is a fascinating idea, yet it will be coexisting with other diverse strategies: individual desktop manufacturing, desktop manufacturing shared in local communities, Fab Labs in Universities and companies producing services, local weaving factories willing to produce on small scale digital on-demand commodities, individual technologies accessible through online services such as Shapeways and Ponoko, networks between individuals like 100k Garages, marketplaces as Cloudfab Fabbers Market, Blomming and also traditional firms.
There have already been at least three cases of Open Design projects coming from actual business companies which managed the production and distribution of the physical artifacts: Openmoko, VIA OpenBook andBug Labs. The problem here is not much about finding an industrial production application, but rather to actually ‘open’ the designing process and make it collaborative. In short, it is a matter of both economics and appliance of knowledge: those Open Design collaborative activities that will succeed are going to be the ones that best manage to handle the material, economic and knowledge resources needed for them to function.
An example is given by the uncountable number of Open Car Design cases: everyone attempts to re-design a fairly sustainable vehicle from scratch and struggle to proceed in realizing the project. The most interesting cases are either from firms that were already producing cars, applying a tailored business strategy (like Local Motors) or from initiatives aimed to transform already existing vehicles, hence requiring less knowledge and economic and material resources (like eCars – Now!). For such reasons it is likely that Open Source Fashion Design projects might succeed more, given that theoretical and technologic skills needed for this kind of design and production are cheaper, easier to access and have already spread on territories.
Bertram Niessen:You deal with a field that occupies an ambiguous position among disciplines. Which are the problems that you think might be caused by this? Which are the benefits?
Massimo Menichinelli: Given that ‘historically’ design environment has never had a strong relation with the concept of ‘community’, my first researches have also had to be about architecture, town-planning, psychology (especially the Activity Theory), online communities, social networks analysis. Along with this, in the future I would like trying to integrate or connect Open P2P Design method with the Motivational Design project from Gianandrea Giacoma and Davide Casali, using tools such as the Net-map toolbox .
Besides these disciplines, it is most important for me to study complex systems (therefore complexity), a subject I have always been interested by, and on which I became even more keen after having read “Linux: A Bazaar at the Edge of the Chaos” by Ko Kuwabara. I believe it is very important to adopt a point of view that takes in consideration the complexity of each problem we tackle in our projects, and when it comes to design projects for communities and territories, understanding the dynamics of such complex systems becomes fundamental. An Open project is much more than a mere change in the code, made by a single person, at local level; it is a proper complex system coming with its own evolutionary dynamics, as Kuwabara explains.
In fact, openp2pdesign.org main targets are not just about studying and developing Open projects but they also study and develop complex systems such as Generative/Genetic Design, Bionic Design/Biomimicry, in order to spread the culture of projects bound to complexity. The necessity to draw from all these disciplines was a hurdle in the beginning, but it then turned out to be a benefit, since I surely have more tools to tackle projects oriented towards distributed systems. In the future it will probably be more simple to develop such projects, however in this beginning phase it is important to devote our energies on research in order to structure design and metadesign methods.
It has to be noticed that terms like Open and P2P are sadly still sound “uncomfortable” rather than ambiguous because of the consistence of change they entail. It would actually be important to understand how current types of organization do represent present trends, where the ability to build social webs and communities through self-organization, sharing and collaboration are nothing but a way to become more reactive and capable of adapting to society and an economy suddenly changing.
Furthermore, historically, the designer’s field of action is consistently limited by management and marketing representers; consequently nobody would expect a designer to be intervening on organization issues (and this is perhaps one of the reasons for which Design of Services hasn’t had its breakthrough yet). Maybe now along with the interest in Design Thinking, companies are beginning to realize that ‘design’ doesn’t mean shallow anarchic creativity, but rather rules and processes, tools and roles for the collective development of projects oriented toward users, social, environmental and economic context. The main benefit beyond these limitations, is to have a designer education and the ability to develop various projects using diverse processes and tools, along with the capability to ponder on ourselves.
Bertram Niessen: It seems to me that dialectics does not occupy a central role in the reflections of those that concern themselves with Open Manufacturing. Do you agree? What tools and methodologies do you think that should be implemented?
Massimo Menichinelli: Indeed, I also found few cases of dialectics connected to the systems of Open Design in general, both from whom participates to the phenomenon and those that are concerned with dialectic itself. Most probably, the capacity of the change has not yet been understood, or maybe it is being hindered or ignored for this very reason. Dialectics is, in my opinion, fundamental in this case: as I was mentioning beforehand, the question of knowledge is central for the success of these processes and projects, not only for what concerns the eductation for the dynamics and for the instruments needed for the projects, but also in the sense that one has to make sure that the users and the communities are the real bearers of knowledge and interesting capabilities in the process of co-design.
Amongst the few cases that I have encountered, I found that the work of Ezio Manzini deserves attention. He organised, together with other professors at the Facutly of Design of Milan’s Politecnico University a series of worshops on the project-making of joint services; the one by Marta Malè-Alemany, that held a course of Open Design within the context of didactic referred to Fabbing at the Institute for advanced Architerure of Catalonia in Barcelona; the one by Roger Pitiot, that held a course on Open Design at the International Design shool for Advanced Studies (IDAS) in Seoul. Without forgetting that Arduino was born in the context of didactic itself, one should mention also the Open Font Titillium that was born in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Urbino, thanks to the involvement of the students of the two year specialization course.
Actually I am doing some didactics myself, amongst the various lectures and workshops carried out in Europe and Asia, even if this activity has been carried out only in occasion of events or under invitations. Most probably, one of the main activities of openp2pdesign.org will be to develop and offer a didactics organized continuously . To find a solution to this shortage, the main thing to deal with is to spread the awareness of these projectual processes, of their limits and of their advantages.
The tools that have to be utilized are those already in use in the current processes, and also, the involvement of Universities, research centers and enterprises could be a strategy for the delevelopment of those tools that are currently missing or poorly developed. For what regards methodologies, there surely can be many paths, I however do not exclude that one can think of using Open P2P Design fot the planning of joint activities of open didactics with specific local contextuality.