SlowD is a community and a platform where designers and craftsmen are collaborating for developing, prototyping and manufacturing products, at the same time allowing small batches and local markets. With the help of digital and rapid manufacturing, SlowD aims at building a sort of disseminated factory while involving local craftsmen. After connecting designers and manufacturers, their website works as a window for displaying and selling the products to the local final customers. SlowD is telling about how the crisis of the old big 20th century industry is opening to new forms of innovation which are socially and environmentally sustainable. As many other cases, such as Ponoko, Shapeways or Local Motors, this is the indicator of a new economy mixing together new technology, creativity, DIY, makers and local manufacturing on demand. It is not the product to be innovative in itself, but the way this is developed and the number of actors involved. Since we are witnessing the historical decline of the large manufacturing companies, a new form of organization is opening the process of design and production into new and creative spaces for working. The “personal” capitalists in design are able to self-organize and network individually, as knowledge and creativity emerge as strategic levers and an added value for the new technologies to co-create innovation and develop autonomous experiences of production. Personal factory and personal capitalism come to be the result of a democratization process of the production technologies and the design tools. In addition to designing the product, the creative professional is involved in the management of the process and the organization of production itself. As a result, the shift is also involving the role and even the status of the designer in contemporary society: if the digital tools are more available and affordable than ever, design ceases to be an elitist profession, to become a ‘mass profession’. The designer is no longer alone in the middle of his office, erected as the creator shaping the future world, rather he is networking with a number of heterogeneous actors, taking advantage of every opportunity offered by the new media, and finally drawing the shape of the future open industry. This is not to evoke the ghost of the Arts and Crafts before Taylor, rather to imagine the new industry after Taylor. It is not the local against the global, nor the slow against the speed, neither the handcrafted against the mass production: on the contrary this is a new idea of development displaying what is the direction of the new post-Fordist production systems and small series, matching open source, customization, and crowd-sourcing. If the Fordist-Taylorist paradigm of mass production was a vital figure for the industrial design of the twentieth century memory, the younger generations have seen and come to terms with the de-industrialization and the rise of the service sector. While their fathers and grandfathers had a role in the “assembly line”, in close contact with the manufacturing processes providing them goals and stimuli, instead the children and grandchildren are getting acquainted with the fluidity of the new tools of the project and have become aware of their new role of strategy and service to innovation. The tools and the techniques of design are changing along with the practices: the digitalization process permeates every segment of the professional activity, scanning times and actions and thus reducing the entire design development to the production and process of information elaborated by knowledge and creativity at work. The computer becomes the working tool par excellence which is able to create new forms of expression, out of the recognized boundaries. Micro-factories and personal capitalism in design are developing the new wave of the distributed economy of the FabLabs, which are infrastructured as a digital network for the development of complex bottom-up projects. The FabLabs are the places for co-working and facilitating the process of design: knowledge is finally horizontally shared and made in common as an accomplished utopia.
Lorenzo Imbesi is an architect, PhD and Professor of Industrial Design at Sapienza University in Rome. He lives and works in Rome.