Saturday, December 24, 2011

Droog Lab

Image from the article A.B.C.D.E.‚ An Open Discussion on Design Process by Francesco Galli for Domus

Droog Lab is a design platform run by Droog in collaboration with local partners and designers worldwide. With a goal of defining the next generation of global design, the Droog Lab seeks inspiration from diverse societies in a series of eight projects from 2009-2012. Lessons learned locally are translated into globally-relevant design outcomes and publications.

Droog Lab seems focused on the potential of locally-driven projects and uses a process which engages with established or professional design groups to facilitate discovery and co-creation. Some of the issues that have been identified include a future state of collaborative consumption, and the impact of informal economies, transparency, and service-based platforms versus object-based solutions.

In my opinion, Droog may be discovering what others of us have been uncovering around the future of design and quite frankly, how the world is evolving. Specifically, contextual design that is highly resilient involves working cooperatively i.e. horizontally with local communities to uncover processes and solutions that are able to address local needs and celebrate their specific talents and experiences; That there is a need for real flexibility in design offerings. People have become active producers not just passive consumers and subsequently want and need to bend, tweak and mash offerings to their unique situations; And recognition that intangible service systems are products in themselves and are fundamental to how people interact with one another to share and exchange resources and experiences.

I very much appreciate the Lab's working principles. Please read their report for a more detailed explanation of each:
1. Celebrate differences.
2. Visit to learn, not to change.
3. Observation is your greatest tool.
4. Take an optimistic perspective.
5. Listen to anyone.
6. Experience the ordinary.
7. Get used to mixing.
8. Be open to the outcome.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New Work by Tomas Alonso

There's a tension to Tomas Alonso's work. One one hand there's such lightness in the simplicity of his construction and gestures. They draw you closer and create a desire to understand. Not quite elegant, but still delicate in their thoughtfulness. So why, on the other hand, does his work also feels aloof, without a generous, warm inviting spirit. If his furniture is inspired by human gesture and intended to get into people's hands, why do I feel his pieces are greeting me with indifference. It seems a battle of heart and head are taking place in Alonso's process. Maybe a few more cycles of exploration until he brings those two lovers closer together.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Swapping Clothes for Fun, Creativity, and a New Economy

I was recently out in San Francisco and had a chance to cross paths with Sarah Brooks who is the Director of Social Innovation at Hot Studio. She’s also a writer with the online journal, Shareable. She wanted to understand how design methods and tools can be applied to developing and building locally-based, informal economies. She was kind enough to write this article on Give-and-Take.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Steve Messam: On the Lifecyle of Art

Artist Steve Messam spent some time writing about how creative works can evolve and still remained tethered to their original intent. In his original installation, Steve uses local wool to give form to a prototypical welsh farmhouse. As the piece came down and after being asked by local farmers what the practical implications could be for the installation Steve explored how the materials could refresh and reconfigure into new works but remain tethered to the original intent. I think there's some provocations in here about the games of fix and flux we engage in to understand and make use of the world. Check out his thoughts at Mud'N Art.

Monday, November 28, 2011

RelayRides meets GM meets Google

General Motors and RelayRides are teaming up to streamline the peer-to-peer car sharing process. The companies' exclusive relationship will allow millions of GM vehicle owners to rent out their idle cars through the OnStar mobile communication system.

RelayRides, a P2P car sharing service, already allows vehicle owners to choose rates and legally rent out their idle vehicles by providing an online marketplace and a $1 million insurance policy to make the transaction safe and convenient.

GM and RelayRides work together to develop a mobile app that will allow users to check for available vehicles, make a online reservation online, locate their reserved vehicle via GPS and lock and unlock the vehicle, all through their smart phone. RelayRides will leverage OnStar to allow borrowers to unlock GM cars with their mobile phones. The integration makes all eligible OnStar vehicles immediately "RelayRides ready" without having to install additional hardware.

In addition, Google Ventures has invested an undisclosed sum into RelayRides. August Capital also took part in the company’s first round of fundraising. This funding points to how fast automobile transportation as a product service system is evolving. There are now three generations of car sharing developing simultaneously - fleet based, peer-to-peer, and Google's automatic driving. And other big companies including Hertz, Daimler, and Enterprise have gotten into the game fairly recently creating hybrid services like car rental with ride sharing (take a passenger with you to lower your car rental cost).

"In addition to the significance of the Google investment to stimulating new investment in the space, the rapid growth of car sharing could accelerate the growth of the sharing economy in another way. Our New Sharing Economy study showed that car sharers share across significantly more asset categories than non-car sharers. This suggests that car sharing is a gateway drug to sharing. It echoes a consistent theme I see as publisher of Shareable, that sharing begets more sharing. In fact, sharing is viral. Once someone sees that it works in one area of life, they want to try it in another. And since you can't share alone, you take other people with you down the path to a more shareable way of life." --Neal Gorenflo Editor of Shareable

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sharing Cell Phones and Knowledge to Improve Healthcare in West Africa

Here's a high level case study around the development of a free tele-communications service that connects healthcare professionals in Ghana. In addition to the free network for doctors, Switchboard distributes directories to every doctor in the network, so they can find the right person in the country to communicate with when they need to.

Africa suffers more than 24% of the global burden of disease but has access to only 3% of health workers. With ratios as low as one doctor per 30,000 patients, they must be prepared to face a wide variety of conditions: high levels of disease, lack of basic supplies and medicines, deteriorating or substandard equipment, and, in remote areas, isolation from medical peers, One simple way to help is by providing better means for health professionals to share knowledge and collaborate with one another.

It's worth a read to understand the basic evolution of the service from a design and business development perspective. As well as creating a viable system based on strategic partnerships, the service is enabling a type of data collection that was before inconceivable. The SIM cards brought doctors into a calling network, and allowed Switchboard to track the specialties and locations of nearly every doctor practicing in Ghana. This was the first time this was possible in Ghana. They could see where all the OBGYN’s or pediatricians were located in the country, and how few surgeons there were. This data provided a broad view of the high-level healthcare needs, and served as the foundation for improving collaboration through their printed Doctor Directory, which was distributed to every doctor in the network.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Debt: The First 5000 years

David Graeber, in a recent article, provides a brief chronicle of the evolution of debt through credit, monetization and bartering. In his view, the idea that bartering preceded credit is a myth. This is likely because bartering was a fluid, on-the-spot negotiation which didn't generally result in an equal exchange but an "I owe you one" agreement. He asks then, "how does that broad sense of ‘I owe you one’ turn into a precise system of measurement – that is: money as a unit of account?"

By the time historical records are written in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3200 BC, it’s already happened. There’s an elaborate system of money of account and complex credit systems. (Money as medium of exchange or as a standardized circulating units of gold, silver, bronze or whatever, only comes much later.)

So really, rather than the standard story – first there’s barter, then money, then finally credit comes out of that – if anything its precisely the other way around. Credit and debt comes first, then coinage emerges thousands of years later and then, when you do find “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow” type of barter systems, it’s usually when there used to be cash markets.

Graeber proposes the onset of credit from one of two places. One is what was found in Egypt: a strong centralized state and administration extracting taxes from everyone else. For most of Egyptian history they never developed the habit of lending money at interest. Mesopotamia was different because the state emerged unevenly and incompletely. At first there were giant bureaucratic temples, then also palace complexes, but they weren’t exactly governments and they didn’t extract direct taxes – these were considered appropriate only for conquered populations. Rather they were huge industrial complexes with their own land, flocks and factories. This is where money begins as a unit of account; it’s used for allocating resources within these complexes.

Interest-bearing loans, in turn, probably originated in deals between the administrators and merchants who carried, say, the woollen goods produced in temple factories (which in the very earliest period were at least partly charitable enterprises, homes for orphans, refugees or disabled people for instance) and traded them to faraway lands for metal, timber, or lapis lazuli. The first markets form on the fringes of these complexes and appear to operate largely on credit, using the temples’ units of account. But this gave the merchants and temple administrators and other well-off types the opportunity to make consumer loans to farmers, and then, if say the harvest was bad, everybody would start falling into debt-traps.

Eventually the Egyptian approach (taxes) and Mesopotamian approach (usury) fuse together, people have to borrow to pay their taxes and debt becomes institutionalized.

(Excerpt above from an interview conducted by Philip Pilkington, a journalist and writer based in Dublin, Ireland.) For a full read of the article visit What is Debt from Naked Capitalism

Monday, October 3, 2011

Battered by economic crisis, Greeks turn to barter networks

The Economic Times just wrote a short profile on Volos, Greece who is responding to the country's precarious economic relationship with the EU, by developing alternative economies based on a blend of credit and barter. "Part alternative currency, part barter system, part open-air market...People sign up online and get access to a database that is kind of like a members-only Craigslist. One unit of TEM is equal in value to one euro, and it can be used to exchange good and services. Members start their accounts with zero, and they accrue credit by offering goods and services. They can borrow up to 300 TEMs, but they are expected to repay the loan within a fixed period of time." The NY Times also covered this and added, "Members also receive books of vouchers of the alternative currency itself, which look like gift certificates and are printed with a special seal that makes it difficult to counterfeit. Those vouchers can be used like checks."

The Greek government is taking notice as citizens are designing economic safety nets that remove hard currency from the equation. This isn't an economic secession, but a pragmatic parallel economy based on collaborative behavior to share and exchange necessary services and goods to maintain their lives. Solidarity in the face of adversity seems to be the motivating force for the design of this service system.

Worth noting also is the sense of contribution that has been cited as a reason for participation. One member was quoted, "You have much more than your bank account says. You have your mind and your hands.”

Absolutely fantastic!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Upcoming Clothing Social in Braddock, PA

Give-and-Take will hold its second clothing social at Braddock’s UnSmoke Systems Artspace, October 8-9. If you're interested in thrifting, repurposing or donating clothing to the local community, please come and check us out. Over the weekend we will host:

• A clothing exchange
where everything costs $1. Clothing comes from you, the public. All sizes. All genders. All seasons.
A drop-off for your clothing donations. Looking to clear out your closet or make a contribution to your community? Your clothes make the exchange possible. So bring your clean, gently worn stuff to us. For a list of what we’re able to accept, please see our donation page.
A mending circle where we can help you fix or change clothes you bring from home or score at the exchange. We’ll have comfy couches, sewing machines, and most importantly, mentors to help you do your thing.

Thrift. Donate. Mend. Or just hang out. The idea is for you stop by and be part of the mix. As a special treat, we’ll have the outdoor pizza oven up and going on Saturday from 3-5pm.

Would you be interested in contributing your skills? We’d love the help. We need sewing mentors; brave souls to make sense of all the donations; and all around ground troops to help us run the show. We have lots of opportunities. In thanks, we hope you’ll find some clothes you like at the social and fill up a bag for free.

Hours: UnSmoke Systems Artspace, 1137 Braddock Avenue, Braddock
Oct 8 Saturday 1-6pm
Oct 9 Sunday 1-6pm

Please contact us if you have questions or want to volunteer. You can also email us directly at

A portion of the clothing social’s profits will be donated to support the The UnSmoke Gallery’s ongoing renovation and programming efforts.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Maker Movement

A short article popped up at Shareable this weekend rephrasing some of the over-arching issues that explain how and why collaborative consumption, the maker movement, informal economies, etc. should be understood as something more than a trend, and instead, a quiet and steady r/evolution in how the world is and could be produced and shared. Thanks to a rise in a networked society, which is providing free or low-cost, instant access to open platform technical, fiscal and intellectual resources, we're now able to engage in personal- and community-based production in ways never experienced before. Specifically, the self-producers of the world, which were historically isolated from one another, are now producing at higher levels and collaborating in ways that are making real inroads on what society consumes. And whether intentionally or not, are prodding us to think about how we make our consumer decisions.

On one hand these collaborations are enabling self-sustaining mini economies to take hold or at a minimum, to be rigorously explored. (Think Smorgasbord). What's particularly interesting to me is that with these burgeoning, bottoms up options that are becoming available, issues like ethics, impact, and quality of life are giving price point a run for its money as decision-making criteria. On a more practical note, collaborative economies are reducing the need for middlemen, which helps keep prices and material use lower. And for consumers we're finding we don't have to be passive recipients of whatever the market dictates but have more value-aligning options and negotiating power around the stuff we want surrounding our lives.

The article offers the possibility that from this self-organizing and -producing approach, there could come more sustainable models of production and consumption. While applicable everywhere, there could be important implication for societies that lack the wherewithal to work with more traditional or institutionalized modes of production. I see this in my own neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh where folks like DIY'ers and small-scale farmers are able to pay their bills through collaborative enterprises while exposing the community to some alternative consumer options--ones that say, whether deliberately or not, here is a way to do less damage or this is a more delightful way to go about living a life. I'm hopeful reading this article, knowing that competent visionaries and public facing figures are taking a step back to consider and communicate the implications of this shifting state towards collaboration.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Antonelli on Critical Design

Here's an excellent article voicing the role of Critical Design. In a nutshell, critical design undermines the default notion of design as an affirmative, commercially-oriented practice that shies away from thorny ethical issues. The field and practice, formalised by RCA faculty and design practitioners, Dunne and Raby, follows in the footsteps of radical design and architecture from the late 1960s and 1970s, but also marries it with a viable, rent-paying career. Antonelli continues, "The Critical Design process does not immediately lead to useful objects, but rather to food for thought whose usefulness is revealed by its ability to help others prevent and direct future outcomes. The job of critical designers is to be thorns in the side of politicians and industrialists, as well as partners for scientists or consumer advocates, while stimulating discussion and debate about the social, cultural and ethical future implications of decisions about technology made today."

Read the article for a high level introduction to the topic and some of the compelling and provocative projects that are circulating around cultural issues such food sustenance, self-image, and body politics. "All these examples, even the most apparently nihilistic ones, are characterised by deep empathy, trust in a possible better future, and a belief in the demonstrative power of well-designed utopias."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thoughts for the Day

"Learning is any change in a system that produces a more or less permanent change in its capacity for adapting to its environment."

"Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones."

Thank you, Herbert Simon.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why wouldn't you share?

I just stumbled upon Shareable, an online hub for showcasing ideas, conversations, projects and concerns around the blossoming culture of sharing. I'm going to spend some time pouring over this and will return with some thoughts. Please check them out if you get a second.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Openwear: A Collaborative Clothing Platform

After looking at Fashion Reloaded out of Berlin, I came across Openwear who is tearing it up around open source clothing production. This is real inspiration here with the following values:
1. Openwear is a collaborative platform for fashion creation.
2. Openwear is an online community where you can share values, access to knowledge and practice of collaborative and distributed work.
3. Openwear is where makers, fashion producers, small local enterprises, educational institutions can network to participating in the production of a new vision of fashion based on micro-communities and sustainability.

What's grabbing me is the two-fold contribution that Openwear is making to our culture. They are enableing open access to functional and creative ideas while practicing a new economy. In a recent blog entry of theirs, they discuss Adam Arvidsson's new book, "Ethical Economy" (Columbia University Press), in collaboration with Nicolai Peitersen. Their book introduces us to ethical economics and interprets the beginning of a new, radically different economic system in which production is mainly collaborative and social, and in which the value is based on the quality of social interactions and relationships rather than on the quantity of productive time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Give-and-Take's Kick-off Event

This past Sunday we kicked off Give-and-Take at the Polish Hill Arts Festival in Pittsburgh. The scene was made up of a small-scale clothing exchange from community donations; a hands-on upcycling demo; and some one-on-one storytelling inside the airstream. In total we had about 300 visitors; circulated several hundred pieces through our system; and gathered about 30 stories from festival-goers.

As we process the experience, questions are filtering through different perspectives. From a functional angle, can we sustain this amount of effort time and time again? Was the size right and manageable? Did most people find something they wanted or could use? Were we able to communicate quickly and clearly who we are and what we do? From a social perspective, did we stay true to our values of getting one-on-one time with everyone we transacted with? Did people have fun? Did people meet new people through the process of exchange? Did we encourage conversations? From a consumer perspective, did we plant any seeds about alternative modes of consumption and exchange? Did we open ourselves up to future collaborations? Did our service give clothing donators the sense that they're really making a contribution to the community or participating in something meaningful? As for the overall experience, was this a relaxed atmosphere? Was it casual, informal and approachable? Did we encourage people to play and share?

Give-and-Take is proving to have a number of audiences as well as functions. In the coming weeks and months, our challenge will be to continue refining and providing for each aspect listed above, so we can not only increase the circulation of everyday objects but expand the conversation about what it means to consume, exchange and keep our stuff alive.

R-L: A hand-out briefly explaining Give-and-Take; free item cards for those who donate or make a creative contribution; story-telling handouts; and ways to participate in the project

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

At long last: give-and-take

give-and-take is a community-based project that is developing services, activities and events to circulate pre-loved clothing throughout the local area. Along the way we share ideas and thoughts on how to re-use, repurpose and rethink the clothes that pass through our hands.

Join us at the give-and-take Kick-off
The Polish Hill Arts Festival
Sunday, July 17th from Noon-9pm.
Please join us for the first in a series of local socials to exchange and repurpose clothing.

Bring an item or bag of clothing to donate to the collection we're assembling for public use. In thanks, you're free to pull from the pile we've collected to date. We'll be using your donations at public workshops and clothing exchanges; to showcase ideas around the city for reusing and repurposing clothes; and to serve as a free resource for people in need.

This just in:

Jackie McDowell of Iron City Upcyclery will be joining us with some of her handwork. She'll be providing hands-on demos throughout the day. Check back for times and details.

Just look for the airstream.
(Lent to us from the folks over at Lili Coffeeshop. Thanks Rob!)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brainstorm Session #2: A Word of Caution about Storytelling

Our second session was a powerful dose of reality as attendees challenged the trendiness of storytelling and the need for it to be an essential feature in the service. Everyone agreed that clothing is laced with meaning about our personal histories, identity and value systems. But workshop members still had a knee jerk reaction to the storytelling, cautioning us to think carefully about why and when it serves a purpose or enhances the experience. This criticism was exactly what we had hoped to hear about.

At the same time, we talked at length about the project's name--not to find that perfectly brand-able phrase but to get to the essence of what this prototype is about. What was making the rounds were names that evoked a sense of the legacy that clothing brings with it and the willingness to take things at face value. Names like "As Is" and "The Shirt off my Back" gave pause. Ultimately they didn't make the cut, so we're still out there trying to capture that kernal that will help explain what we do.

The majority of the evening was spent on programming efforts. Again there was a deep conversation about what value a workshop could bring to attendees. Many people pushed right past functional activities such as re-use and tailoring workshops to take a look at the emotional side of clothing selection. Given that one part of this project is to broker clothing for people re-entering the work force, one beautiful idea suggested was to create an event where community members/attendees would break into teams and put together outfits from the collection for women in need. From there, the women could "judge" which outfits they liked the best and then walk away with a new wardrobe. This way the transactional, anonymous nature of a social closet is replaced with a more community-oriented event where women come together in a low pressure, highly playful way to help put together needed outfits.

The world is turning in a good way this week. Happy to be here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Brainstorm Session #1: Programming our mobile, pop-up collection process

Last night, we had the first of our two brainstorming sessions to gather ideas around reaching out to the community with programming efforts and informal, pop-up collection events for our upcoming re-use service.

At the heart of the project (currently searching for a name, so hang in there) is the desire to prototype a local system of services, activities and events to circulate pre-loved clothing and get them into new new hopeful hands. Along the way, we will gather stories from the community and explore new and unexpected ways to re-use and re-purpose the materials that make it into the mix.

On a functional level, we’re prototyping an informal yet practical way to keep everyday materials in play and out of the landfill. And on an emotional or social level, we’re creating ways to connect to one another through personal stories and interactions that come with wearing and exchanging clothing.

For any public effort we want to ensure that we're able to:
Encourage and enable people to share the stories of their clothing
Expose people to new ways of re-purposing or configuring clothing
Allow people to leave with something if they like ie. provide hands on, tactile interaction with donations
Create a way for people to stay in the loop after they’ve donated or participated ie. bring them into the fold
Give people a sense of the big picture and how their efforts make an impact ie. understand their impact and effort

Over the course of this 4-6 month project, we will showcase the growing collection of clothing by offering different ways that people could re-purpose or re-configure items into new outfits or new realities. We want to inspire people with possibilities. Imagine: What once was a skirt is now an ottoman cover. What once was a pair of men's pants is now fitted for a woman. What once was three sweaters is now one new sweater (think: pre-loved). What once was a pile of rags is now a tapestry of the city (think Tejo Remy). As we hold workshops, we'll also invite community members to dive into the collection pile and create their own one-of-a-kind ideas that will be showcased in our storefront window. Using the materials, they will be invited to ammend, arrange, concoct and configure the clothes in any way they see fit.

One of the more exciting things that came out of last night's workshop was to forgo a set storefront and instead move about the city using abandoned and existing store fronts as our showcase spaces. This way, we can start to build relationships with the owners and area while creating a roving treasure hunt where clues about the city pop up wherever they might.

That said, we're looking for both creators and public facing spaces that will help support this idea. Interested? Or know someone who is? Let us know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another platform approach to developing local economies

Our food friends up in NYC have developed Smorgasbord, a Brooklyn Food Flea Market. Not sure how I feel about the association with flea markets--their "catch as catch can", of-varying-quality connotation, but I'm excited to see how Smorgasbord is focusing their effort on being the connective tissue between the regional growers, purveyors and producers who are concerned with food access, nutrition and sustainable growing practices. Instead of waiting for policy makers to make connections and do something about it, local experts are seeing both a philosophical and economic opportunity to provide an alternative to the current marketing structure that usually keeps these groups separated. Smorgasbord is offering a nice glimpse of a bottoms-up, systemic approach to local food production and distribution. Given their claim of building a democratic approach to eating and buying food, I'll be interested to see how they reach out to different consumers communities as their project evolves. They're not explicit how their established market place will be able reach as many people as possible.

In their words:
"Here are our goals with Smorgasburg: directly connect local/NYC purveyors with regional farmers/producers; make good, fresh, affordable food accessible to as many people as possible; provide purveyors and farmers with a platform to sustain their businesses; and create a market that makes eating and buying food fun, democratic, and easy."

Good luck Smorgasbord!

Monday, May 16, 2011

ReadyMadePGH: A Local Service for circulating clothing

After four months of research and planning we've prepared our roadmap for ReadyMadePGH. In the coming weeks, we will start prototyping the key features of the touch points; start communicating publicly; and be on the look-out for a storefront that can act as HQ.

ReadyMadePGH is a local system of services, activities, and events to circulate (re-cycle and repurpose) clothing within the local community. This project was inspired from fourteen years of holding small-scale, home-based clothing swaps and considering what impact these social exchanges could have when taken to a larger, community scale. In a nutshell, "We adopt your pre-loved clothes and create opportunities to get them into new, hopeful hands."

The ReadyMadePGH prototype has two over-lapping goals. The first is to understand the needs and behaviors that support high volume circulation of pre-loved consumer goods. The other is to understand how relationships take hold and deepen when we focus on the social interactions which are the backbone of the service. We see this project as both a community building tool as well as pragmatic public service.

When we swap, trade, barter, share clothing, not only do we keep needed and usable resources in play and out of our landfills, but we create real opportunities to have direct, meaningful contact between each other and our communities. Reuse systems rely on collective effort to work and create impact. Because of their collaborative nature, they have an inherent social component (whether explicit or not), which we believe is worth considering as an opportunity to build and deepen community ties. Services traditionally focus on efficiency and effectiveness as measures of success. These are reasonable goals. We want to understand, if we elevate the social aspects of re-use, can we not only increase the efficacy of a service, but also help to establish and deepen relationships throughout the community.

If prototyped in ways that encourage active participation and collaboration, these systems can provide opportunities for meaningful experiences for and between the people that use them. By tapping into and celebrating people’s shared efforts, needs and motivations, we can create social situations out of very functional matters. We can make spaces for people to share and workshop ideas; engage with like-minded people; enhance face-to-face time between makers and consumers; capture stories that celebrate clothing and the people who wear them; and even consider the legacy of what we make, consume, and discard. By prototyping a re-use system that focuses its attention on the social aspects of sharing and exchanging, we believe ReadyMade can help us understand how to design services that not are only efficient and effective but are meaningful and sustainable ways to share ideas and create personal connections within the local community.

Over the past couple of years, a quiet, powerful evolution in collaboration has been happening and gaining momentum throughout our society and economy. We are relearning how to create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community.* Specifically we are seeing a rise in alternative or informal marketplaces (share, barter, swap, trade, etc.) where people are collaborating around the exchange and reuse of personal resources. From Rentoid (tool rental) to (accommodation sharing) to (green space swapping), like-minded people are coming together to meet, exchange and profit from these marketplaces. Motivations vary. Some collaborate for practical reasons such as ridding themselves of unwanted goods or to turn a quick profit. Others participate for socially minded reasons or to support forward thinking practices such as sustainability or community development. With the rise in hyper connectivity, it is becoming easier and faster to connect and organize with people who have similar concerns, goals, and tastes. Given this confluence between our shifting values around sharing resources and the myriad tools we have to connect in real time, the timing feels perfect to explore how to support a system of reuse that at its core focuses on relationship and community building practices.

In two weeks we will hold co-design workshops with the community to develop some tangible ideas for collecting clothing over a 3-4 month period using pop-up, mobile and guerilla tactics.

*"What's Mine Is Yours: A Rise in Collaborative Consumption." Rachel Botsman, Roo Rogers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Yes, We're Open" A Vision on Open Design

This set of principles (above) comes from an exhibition put together by Intrastructures out of Belgium who are exploring how a networked society is reshaping the way we create, consume, and produce.

Thomas Lommee has provided a short manifesto on what it means to design for open standards or to design for adaption. He provides a nice overview: "Today, the pro-active consumer is no longer judging an object for what it is but rather imagines what it could become [I would add that they also see an object in terms of what goals they want to achieve ie. people don't buy a drill because they want the machine; they buy a drill because they want the hole.]. The objects themselves are starting to behave more and more like dynamic puzzles, self-improving product versions rather than rigid monoliths. This shift from product to process allows the product to be adapted over time according to personal needs and flavors."

He's quick to recognize that open standards are already ubiquitous from the internet itself to manufacturing specs that permeate society (eg. a lightbulb used here will work there as well). He's making a new proposal though--that we need to give up the myth of "creating something completely new" or "something that hasn't been done" and transition into a willingness to dissolve into larger projects where we facilitate others and collaborate for shareable outcomes and possibilities. The focus shifts from building that one ideal, proprietary object or service to the development of open standards platforms or systems that enable citizens to do as they need or want with what they have at their disposal.

Using a simple example: Instead of developing strategies that brand and sell people the newest, most unique article of clothing, provide them a standard item or material and accompany it with patterns, directions, a community, etc. they can draw from, so they can define and develop "clothing" (ie. content) and "newness" for themselves. Not everyone wants to do this of course, but in our growing networked society, we've tipped towards a world of interlocking co-producers who find this a much more enticing approach to production and consumption, and in my opinion, community building.

Case in point:
Pamoyo--open source fashion label out of Berlin

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Categorizing Collaborative Marketplaces

Pulling again from What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, below are three categories for grouping the burgeoning systems for trading, swapping, lending, borrowing, sharing and exchanging.

Product Service Systems
These services enable products, if owned by an entity, to be rented, and if owned by individuals, to be rented or shared peer-to-peer. These systems do well to extend the life of a product and maximizes its utility. Examples include ZipCar, Zilok, Rentoid, RelayRides.
Redistribution Markets
Through social networks, these markets enable the redistribution or circulation of used or unwanted good. Products can be free ex. Freecycle, Around Again; sold for points ex. Barterquest; or for cash ex. eBay, Flippid; or some sort of mixture ex MakeupAlley, Craigslist. The powerful thing about redistribution markets is that they challenge the traditional relationship between producer, retailer and consumer, blurring the lines between actor and audience.
Collaborative Lifestyles
Involves the sharing of less tangible items such as time, skills and places. These occur on local as well as international levels. Rather than a centralized top down management system, these dynamics rely heavily on trust and interpersonal dynamics to survive and flourish. Examples include; Citizen Space, Airbnb, Landshare, and ParkatMyHouse, to name a few.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Garage Sale Trail

Another piece of re-use ingenuity from Australia. This time a city wide set of yard sales to keep usable stuff off the curbs and placed into needed hands. Here's a quick video on how they did it and who supported them along the way. More than just quaint civic action, this example shows a nice blend between digital networking and printed matter coming together quickly and effectively to organize, inform, and execute.

On that note, the group Let's Do It is setting a nice precedent for similar activities, specifically around large scale mapping and clean-up of environmental hazards

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rentalship is the new Ownership

I think live|work coined it a little more elegantly 8 years ago with, "It's not what you own. It's what you use." That said, here's a quick article from Wired about the rise of collaborative marketplaces and a little bit about the implications. Rachel Botsman was quoted with a nice bit,"“We are relearning how to create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community,” she says. “For the first time in history, the age of networks and mobile devices has created the efficiency and social glue to create innovative solutions, enabling the sharing and exchange of assets."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Informal Economies in Africa: Creating products, services and systems that reinforce convivial relationships among people

Just paraphrasing a conversation between John Thackera and Mugendi M’Rithaa that showed up on the Thackera's Doors of Perception (first published in the Design Observer). Below is a quick capture of some ideas and language around the under-pinnings of "alternative" economies, specifically in Africa.

As socially-based alternatives economies are becoming more and more pervasive, there may be some lessons to learn from a continent that "may be cash poor but communally rich", attributing its wealth to "the universal value of participative, cohesive and inter-connected communities," says M'Rithaa. He continues, "A sense of communal solidarity is still strongly embedded in our collective consciousness and social fabric. For many close-knit communities (especially in rural and peri-urban settings) consumerism has yet to take its hold on the popular psyche – people readily share what they have, and borrow what they don’t." What I take this to imply is that, collectively speaking, Africa is still a culture of smaller, closer knit relationships where it is understood, implicitly or explicitly, that people are reliant upon each other to make their worlds move smoothly. Even if the circles are growing every day, there hasn't yet been a tipping point that moves the culture from a culture of "WE" to a culture of "ME." Subsequently, ownership is less a goal than a component of a larger system of sharing or exchanging.

This, M'Ritha says, is what makes Africa worth noting. Built upon a culture of collective self-reliance, and mutual assistance,the informal economy (barter, trade, swap, share....) is what keeps Africa moving. M'Ritha says that the sense of solidarity is pervasive. "It's expressed in various types of elective creative communities; these typically deal with shared needs such as running communal crèches and car pooling. These groups are known as chamas in Kenya, and differ significantly from traditional forms of groupings where membership was based on common kinship." At the heart of these economies is trust.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

Came across an article in the Boston Globe profiling the first National Swap Day Event which was held in Boston during the early part of January.

Rachel Botsman, coauthor of the recent book “What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption," weighed in on the growing popularity of swapping and "attributes the swelling of swapping to a perfect alignment of social and economic attitudes. The recession forced budget-conscious consumers to barter rather than buy. Sophisticated technology made it easy to organize quickly online. Such sites addressed people’s interest in recycling their belongings. And despite the apparent rancor with which they shop, swappers say they enjoy the sense of community."

“The result is a big shift away from the 20th century defined by hyper consumption, essentially buying more stuff and a culture of me, myself, and I towards the 21st-century era of collaborative consumption,’’ Botsman said. “In the past, it was not worth the hassle to swap stuff. Network technologies now create an infinite marketplace to match millions of haves with millions of wants, whatever they may be, from a small device in our hands.’’

I'm curious to see what she has to say about people's interest in the the creation process. How much or how willing are people to participate in the production of exchange in addition to filling the role as end consumer. As well, with this shift towards collaboration over sole ownership, is she seeing any new patterns or change in behavior as it relates to what and how much people consume.

Also mentioned in the profile is a brief nod to GrowNYC, an environmental nonprofit created by the New York City mayor’s office. Recognizing the trend towards re-use, they've recently added and organized 13 “Stop ‘N Swap’’ events (attracting more than 4,000 people) to their Office of Recycling Outreach and Education.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wearable Collection: Clothing Recycling

Building off of yesterday's post, I found the recycling service, Wearable Collection. They use their established network to distribute others discarded clothing around the world to people who need it, enabling them to raise money for charitable organizations. To quote them: "Rather than having your residents haul their clothing to a collection site, or worse, dump them in the trash, we would like to place a receptacle in your building for their recycling convenience. Our aim is to reduce clothing in landfills while helping raise funds for non-profits."

In addition to saving valuable, usable textiles and clothing from the landfill and making them accessible to those in need, the service emphasizes its logistical, back-end capacity. They help groups publicize the clothing recovery drive, pick up the clothing after it's been collected, and ensure that the clothing gets into the hands of people who need it—people as far away as Africa, Central America, and South America.

They've developed a service that provides the following:
We will provide you with a poly cart, 28.5” deep x 48” wide x 66.5” high, or a similar variation to suit your specific requirements. The cart should be placed in a location that is easily accessible to residents. (i.e., laundry room or basement storage area).

We will notify residents about the program and the location of the bin with flyers placed on the community board or sent to their e-mail addresses. You can download the flyers needed below.

While the amount of the clothing donated will vary from building to building, you can expect that we will pick up, one per week. We will schedule a weekly pick-up with you and adjust accordingly, as volume may fluctuate.

Our goal is to maximize clothing recycled while minimizing inconvenience to you. If you are interested in participating in our clothing recycling program we will find a way to work within your building's constraints.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stuff and Culture 2.0

Jude reaching for the stars at Swap Meet 2007, Pittsburgh

For the past 14 years I've been holding an annual swap meet in my home for my female friends. It's a simple and familiar event -- I invite a pile of ladies to come to my house with items they no longer want. They throw their clothes, shoes, scarves, fur bikinis, what-have-you into the pile and then take turns pulling from the loot. Generally, there's 10-15 people and what amounts to about 15-20, 40 gallon bags of clothing and accessories. After all is said and done, everyone walks away with something and I load up the remaining 40% of clothes and haul it off to one of my local second-hand stores.

Since starting in 1998 I've been wondering what this could look like and what effect a swap like this could have if it was organized on a larger, public scale. Fourteen years ago there wasn't yet a term for it, but today I'm asking myself, what could happen if this home spun swap meet evolved into a 2-3 day long, public pop-up clothing exchange.

The days of mass consumption certainly aren't coming to an end. The more interesting observation is that we are now asking the question, "To what end?" It's easy to see that we've entered into a stage where consumers are not solely passive recipients of the current day offering but more and more often, co-creators and full participants in the experience of exchange (book mobiles, DIY events, flea markets, buy/sell exchanges). For many, the focus of shopping is not so much about the acquisition of stuff as it is an act of participation--be it in a community or a philosophy or type of socio-sporting event. Stuff is is still desired but what seems to be trumping the stuff is the process and mindset that gets us into arena where the scoring can happen.

Following will be a little sleuthing to see what others are doing and saying; how they're doing it; and what's been on their minds as they've gone on their way.