Design for Sharing — We Are What We Share

Images and excerpt from the Sustainist Design Guide: How Sharing, Localism, Connectedness, and Proportionality are Creating a New Agenda for Social Design, by Michiel Schwarz and Diana Krabbendam with The Beach Network. Design: Robin Uleman.

Editor's note. Michiel Schwarz recently visited me in Mountain View, California where I live. I learned that Michiel is actively promoting a "design for sharing" imperative in the European design and sustainability communities. His and Diana's book line up well with Shareable's point of view.  I recommend the book, which is beautifully designed and is an excellent tool for spreading the message of sharing. -Neal Gorenflo, Shareable 

A new culture of sharing is emerging. We are increasingly sharing goods, places, services, and information. It is creating social value and community. In this way, shareability is becoming a valued quality that drives new business practices, community cooperatives, and new forms of “collaborative consumption.” The open source movement and the emerging open design practice reflect the same mentality. Centred around collaboration and exchange, sharing schemes are often linked to mobile and Internet technologies.

The sustainist design challenge is as follows: What would happen if “shareability” would be taken as a design criterion? How might we bring shareable assets into the design process for products, services, environments and situations? What might we (re)design to encourage more sharing and open exchange?

THE SHARING SOCIETY IS HERE

New sharing-based initiatives in business and social entrepreneurship are being launched every day. So much so that we can rightly speak of the emergence of a “sharing society” and a “sharing economy.” In the sharing society, people share tools, services, knowledge, places, and skills. We have seen the success of car sharing as a prominent example, including local initiatives that enable us to rent our neighbour’s car. The sharing economy has grown rapidly. We now see local sharing systems for a wide variety of things, from textbooks to tools and from toys to clothing. Online sharing of knowledge and expertise has been at the forefront of this trend. This is reflected by worldwide online resources such as Wikipedia, but is also increasingly visible at the local level. Community time banks and co-ops, where expertise and skills are pooled, shared and exchanged, are quickly increasing in popularity. Shared places are on the rise, too — from communal gardens and urban farming to “people’s supermarkets” and local public spaces that are collectively designed and run. There are many telling examples in shared services, too.

Take the success of Couchsurfing — a worldwide community of over five million members in 100,000 cities that connects travellers to locals who meet offline to share cultures, hospitality, and adventures. Airbnb — a community market place for the rental of unique spaces — is another good example. Both are causing a revolution in the tourism business.

COLLABORATIVE LIFESTYLES

What lies behind these examples is a surge in initiatives that are explicitly designed to bring sharing, lending, trading, and swapping into our daily lives. We are beginning to create a lifestyle around sharing. Sharing reflects a shift in society towards collaborative practices and lifestyles. We see many sharing schemes that are part of the rise in “collaborative lifestyles.” It is not just physical goods that can be shared, swapped, and bartered. People with similar interests are banding together to share and exchange less tangible assets such as time, space, skills, and money. As Kim Gaskins, content director at Latitude Research, observes: “Sharing represents a fundamental paradigm shift in how people consume: From hyper-consumption to collaborative consumption — a perfect storm driven by connective technologies, economic recession, and raised environmental consciousness.”

SHARING AS QUALITY

Sharing is becoming a valued quality of life.

It combines a number of sustainist features, such as collaboration, connectedness, responsible consumption, “commons,” open exchange of information, and sustainability concerns. We value sharing, not just for its economic benefits or positive impacts to the environment, but also for what it brings us socially. A change from “Generation Me” to “Generation We” is becoming visible in many walks of life — from car sharing to swapping products, from open source software to social currencies. Sharing implies building communities. Its social and communal qualities are key to the success of sharing. As American entrepreneur Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh, concludes: “Sharing-based businesses generally offer a greater feeling of connection and community.” What we are witnessing is a shift in focus from the individual to the collectivity and the corresponding emergence of a culture of collaboration and exchange.

SHAREABLE DESIGN

Shareability depends as much on open exchange and social networks as on the specific feature
of what is being shared. That’s why shareable design often starts with the design of social connections. As design thinker Ezio Manzini says, “The act of designing for sharing makes otherwise invisible connections visible.” Design for sharing implies a different mode of social exchange and how we do things. As collaborative consumption pioneer Rachel Botsman has formulated the design-for-sharing challenge: “Designers must re-imagine not just what we consume, but how we consume.”

There are no blueprints to design for sharing and the leads to shareable design will be diverse. The impetus comes from different considerations and opportunities. In some cases, limited resources or environmental concerns are leading. In others, the communal and collaborative aspects of it will drive shareable design. Collaborative practices, open exchange, common resources and community are all features that can be built into our designs.

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