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How Might Distributed Design Change the Designer's Role?

15. Oct 2020

Distributed design fundamentally changes the role of the designer and the relationship between the designer and the user. But where does that leave the designer?

Quick insight

Distributed design offers a whole new approach and opportunity to rethink how we design, produce and consume products. It’s about decentralizing the design process by dividing labor. Instead of shipping materials and products around the world, we ship data.

Users are empowered to take ownership of their product on a whole new level when the design process opens. By sharing information, the hierarchy between the designer and the user changes, allowing users to impact the design.

Dialogue as a design tool

“It is no longer an authoritarian relationship. I’m no longer selling you a chair that you can’t change. I’m making the chair open source, and we can have a dialogue about how that chair should be made for you,” says product designer Alex Kimber. He just completed the Circular Design Accelerator Program, facilitated by the non-profit organization Maker in Copenhagen.

He’s passionate about distributed design and wants to show other designers and design students that distributed design is an alternative model for production and consumption. Thanks to a closer collaboration, the new role of the designer enrich both designer and end-user.

The users engage when you open up

This new design approach connects designers with users and helps them establish a bond. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the Danish furniture company Stykka experienced the effect of distributed design:

“What happens when you open up the design process is that the product gets a life of its own. A life that’s bigger than your own company. From the moment you set aside your ego and put the product at the center, that’s when people start engaging with you,” says Jarl Vindnæs, CEO and Co-founder at Stykka.

By digitally opening up the design process of the product, Stykka managed to create a whole new relationship with its customers. Going from delivering products, Stykka now has customers engaging with their product posting assembly and hacking videos. The customers have formed an online community adding new design features and feedback every day.

Designing for social and environmental impact

Changing the relationship between the designer and consumer has the potential to fundamentally change the way we design and consume products, says Alex Kimber:

”If people better understand how their products are made and if they have a stake in the production of material things, they can better maintain and repair their things when it’s broken, which improves the longevity of the design.”

The challenge for designers is their ability and willingness to open up their design process and be able to truly listen to their users. If they succeed, the approach has great potential for developing products that are more in tune with the consumer’s needs.

About the Distributed Design Platform

The Distributed Design Platform is a four–year project funded by the European Union through the Creative Europe fund. It acts as an exchange and networking hub for the European Maker Movement.

It consists of both online and offline activities such as events, resources, workshops, fairs, and boot camps that promote and advocate emerging creative talent in Europe and their business productivity and sustainability.

Julie Hjort

Director of Sustainable Transition

Phone +45 2575 8933
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If you want to know more about Distributed Design and how you can get started, reach out to Julie

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