Make it yourself!

“Open design is good for business”

Israeli designer Ronen Kadushin explains, why he makes his designs freely available on the internet. A conversation

A portrait of Ronen Kadushin. He wears his few hairs very short. The index finger and thumb of his right hand rest on his chin. He smiles and looks past the camera on the right.

Open Design founder Ronen Kadushin

Mr. Kadushin, you coined the term Open Design. What characteristics make a design “open”?

I would prefer that it is a good design (laughs): No ideology can be an excuse for bad design. But to be serious: Open design is a method or process of making things; First, the object is published on the Internet, freely available as a digital file for everybody to download. And secondly, it is possible to produce it with digitally controlled machines such as CNC or 3D-printers.

How did you come up with the idea?

The idea came to me in the early 2000s, while I was working as a product designer in Israel and I was teaching as design professor. I became frustrated with the established way of how products are being made, with hierarchies, mass production, supply chains etc. Back then, a big company was interested in some of my designs. But after two or three months of exchanging agreements, they decided to drop it. My frustration came from that point: How can I give somebody so much power over my creativity? When you compare it to other fields of art, photography for example, there are no gatekeepers for creativity. I wanted to try something beyond this established way of production. I started thinking about designs that are easy to build, easy to change, easy to modify by somebody else. I wanted it to convey a message, because I think design is political.

Open design is political?

The politics of open design is that you are kicking the body of industrial design to see if it's still alive (laughs). It is political because you're not cooperating with the established way of how products are being made, you are disengaging with the hierarchy of the markets. You are letting objects and products come to the world in a completely different way.

Which role did new technologies such as CNC machines and 3D-print play for open design?

Open Design as we know it today wouldn’t exist without the rise of technological possibilities. I took the very profound inspiration from open source software at the time. Of course, I was not the first to share designs freely, but maybe the first to do it digitally. Before the internet, you had to share plans and build everything from scratch. But now, with digital files, 3D printing is accelerating, everywhere are possibilities. In a few years, everything will be 3D-printable, from organs to replace in your body, to buildings and everything in between. It’s exciting to see what happens.

In 2010, you published your ideas about open design as “Open Design Manifesto” on your website. Which effects did it have until now?

It’s funny, up to this day so many researchers have quoted that manifesto. But I just wrote it as a favour for a friend, who was doing an exhibition asked a lot of people to write manifestos. So I wrote something and published it on my website. In general, I don’t know if my work about open design had direct effects, but I see some openness. By now, Ikea is doing open design. Even the big companies realise that the world is changing and they can do things together. Not only because it has a good social impact and good karma. It's also good for business. I see university students following in my footsteps. However, design education is still all about keeping your ideas for yourself: Students attend intellectual property courses. Designers are still taught to keep intellectual property very close to them.

Seeing as you come from this educational background, how did it feel to publish your designs freely online?

It was frightening! I started to publish designs online. The first feedback was good. But I felt too established in Israel, I was a professor at the university there. My wife and I were looking for an adventure, so we moved to Berlin in 2005 to do open design. Now, after several years of publishing, you get a lot of appreciation for doing that. People are thankful for doing it, they respect you. 

Do you get feedback from people who downloaded your designs from your website?

Sometimes people come back to me with images. Mostly from the Italic Shelf, which is my most popular download. I get messages from all over the world. Of course, many say “thank you, it’s great”, etc. But surprisingly, they don't change a lot of things about the design. They may change the height or some dimensions of it, but it's not a different shape. I think it’s because most people want the designer’s thing. They think it’s perfect how I designed it and don't feel that they need to change something.

Did you expect that people would experiment more with your designs?

I think people are looking more for a solution than for experimentation. But I have a funny story about what open design can do: Some years ago, I did an open design consultancy for the BMWAdvanced Design Studio. It was a very hush hush secret thing actually, even to get into this studio and I never heard back from them. Back then, I was very surprised, that BMW asked me to do a consultancy. Because they are the elephant and I’m like an ant. But about a year later, I met the head of design of BMW at a conference. And he said: “We know how to make cars and we're making them well for 100 years. But we don't know how to deal with a changing world, including the climate crisis. We don’t know how to make cars differently. We have 16 designers and all of them have some of your designs in their cubicles as inspiration!” So this was my BMW experience. Apparently, they designed a car based on some of my designs, but unfortunately, I never saw it. I’d be very curious though … 

Which open design of yours gained the most attention?

Most attention gained the Iphone-killer. It’s a hammer in the shape of an Iphone. It went viral around 2010 and got quoted everywhere. I even got hate emails from Apple fans. An investment consultant from Seattle ordered two copies for himself and his client – and I’m pretty sure his client was Bill Gates. I did a few copies, it was in a few exhibitions. But of course, it’s just a fun thing. In terms of exposure, it gained most attention, but I don’t think it’s my most important work.

What do you see as your most important work?

I am free to express anything, that’s the politics about open design. I think one of my most political works is the Bearina intrauterine device. It’s a 3D-printable conceptual intrauterine device and points to the fact that most of the world, these innovative devices are too expensive. When you’re 16, it can ruin your life to have an unwanted pregnancy. But still, the most popular anti pregnancy device are not covered by insurance. Women pay between four and eight hundred dollars to install them. So I was thinking of making a design that can be used as intrauterine device but is very, very cheap, can be produced on the spot, locally. So everything came together into a shape that looks like a bear and in the middle is a one cent coin that supplies the copper, which is the spermicide. It’s 3D-printable and cheap. I got lots and lots of responses. Even the United Nations body for family planning called me and asked me if I want to get involved in the project, where they are doing exactly that. But I had to put a disclaimer everywhere: It’s just conceptual, you can’t actually use it! I’m not a gynecologist! But it would be great if somebody would actually take up the idea and produce something medically safe in this regard. Right now is a really good time so observe how open design can work in the medical field too, we saw it during COVID. Many people shared DIY solutions for facemasks and ventilators. This era has been a stress test for supply chains and DIY stepped in to be part of crisis management.

Interview by Gundula Haage