Open Up! Creative Commons Case Studies for Design

Picture 4

Open Up! Creative Commons Case Studies in Design on Slideshare

Last month, John and I gave a presentation about Open Design at the DMY Symposium in Berlin. It was a bright and welcoming audience of young designers from the International Design Festival DMY. We were graciously invited by the event’s organizers (thank you, Ake!) to talk about how open concepts and Creative Commons licensing can help designers realize their ideas, reduce barriers to collaboration, and altogether foster creativity.

So you want to Design?

We started off by outlining a few problems that designers might typically face. My friend Linda, a designer herself, helped tease out some of these issues. Firstly, young designers may not know where to find material they can build upon, let alone where and how to publish thier work so that it too can be discovered.

Secondly, young creators lack what their successful counterparts do not: fame. So while established artists have more clout and social capital, an aspiring designer has to fight bitter battles to just get their work seen let alone purchased. Nowadays, perhaps more so than ever, audience attention is drastically limited and overburdened by digital noise. That’s why Tim O’Reilly’s observation continues to ring true: “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” So designers, instead of worrying about someone “ripping off” ideas, you should be more concerned about winning eyeballs and getting people to talk about your work.

Lastly, what other problems might a budding designer face? Basically, anything that’s going to cost them a lot of unnecessary money. Like lawyers and extraneous licensing fees.

A Ray of Hope


These are at least some problems that open licenses such as Creative Commons’ can help solve. For example, all CC licenses require attribution, so each time someone distributes or reuses your work, your name is mentioned. And for anyone who understands how the net works, getting mentioned (i.e. getting linked to) is a good thing. Plus, with CC licenses you can embed metadata, which enables your work to be maschine-readable and indexed by search engines and other tools, which makes it much easier for people to find your stuff.


By granting additional permissions to your work, you’re inviting people to participate in the creative process with you, which can improve your designs and encourage people to become fans and active supporters of your ideas and projects. It’s also important to reiterate that with a CC license, you never give up your copyright. You still retain certain rights, and it’s within the frame of copyright that CC licenses acutally function. What’s more, when you use CC’s free licensing tools, you don’t have to go through the hassle of hiring a lawyer and negotiating a contract for every use. Instead, the licenses are standardized and publicly available, which means anyone can use them to publish a work for which they control the appropriate rights.

Ok, now that there are some arguments for why one should open up their work, but what about some good examples of how?

Open Design in Practice

One elegant story of open design comes right out of Berlin. Ronen Kadushin, a long-experienced designer and adventuring spirit, is pioneering the practice of releasing “source code” for high-end furniture under a Creative Commons license. Students, amaetuers, and competitors alike can download Ronen’s AutoCAD files and build and customize the pieces themselves.


Ronen’s beautiful and playful designs, as well as innovative approach, have won him much attention and fans. People often send him design remixes and purchase completed pieces from his online retailers or gallery exhibitions. Ronen says he enjoys the adventure of going open source and seems quite pleased with the results so far.


Open fashion is another field of innovative design in Berlin. Cecilia Palmer, founder of the open source fashion label Pamoyo, recently unveiled The Red Shop in Kreuzberg, where she sells finished pieces made from organic materials. You can also download her patterns and make the clothing yourself. As with Ronen’s designs, people are encouraged to unleash their creativity on Pamoyo’s collection and drop Cecilia a line when they’re done.

aruino board

Arduino is of course another cool example of how openness can inspireĀ  creators and reinvigorate design. This low-cost electronics platform runs on simple yet powerful hardware and software, and it’s been the darling of design and circuit communities since it hit the market. Users can buy completed boards or build their own from Arduino’s freely available CC-licensed files. The applications for Arduino are nearly limitless: robotics, game design, visuals, interactive sculpture, energy monitors, you name it. But one of the most fun ways to learn about this open tool is to hack it in collaborative geek-glee at an Arduino workshop. As for the economics and social trends around the platform, Clive Thompson’s analysis in WIRED is certianly worth a read.

reprapA final key component in many open design circles is community. Thingiverse, for example, is a lively online community for digital fabrication: 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, and the whole lot. They share their projects online under open licenses so that people can play, comment, build upon and improve the designs. The same is true for cadyou, Flexible Stream, and Open Draw Community.

Looking for more?

A number of these example and more are documented in the Creative Commons Case Studies project. We’re always looking to expand this resource, so if you’d like to share your experience in Open Design, please consider adding your story!

Images: Open Up! Creative Commons Case Studies in Open Design by Michelle Thorne / CC BY, Bird Table by Ronen Kadushin / CC BY NC SA, Pamoyo / CC BY NC SA, Replicating Rapid-Prototype by Ethan Heim / CC BY NC SA

Comments (5)

  1. Pingback: Michelle Thorne (thornet) 's status on Saturday, 25-Jul-09 14:49:08 UTC -

  2. Pingback: ParkerHayden Newsroom » The business case for Creative Commons licensing

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.