Posts tagged michael thonet
Michael Thonet

Over the last few weeks, I've been up late and wrestling with the roll-out of the Zip Tie Lounger, now available on OpenDesk. Specific design aside, the whole project was an experiment with process, looking into ways to design, distribute, and build physical products by moving around information instead of matter. For most of history, moving around matter wasn't much of an issue, as the limits of horse-drawn transportation limited any practical shipping radius. The clipper ship, then the railroad, then the truck, and now the container ship (or airplane) gradually expanded those radii until they encompassed the whole world. 

In the course of my research, I mostly focused on IKEA as the modern extension of all these ideas, as they have brought flat-pack furniture to perhaps its truest expression of form. Along the way, they stole ideas from the best, combining big-box retail and old-fashioned catalog sales to bring their retail model to maximum efficiency. But IKEA, Sears Roebuck, and even OpenDesk have roots that run far deeper, back to the early part of the 19th century. 

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Flat-Pack Design: Past, Present, and Future

Twice in the last few months I have been out to FabLab Baltimore, at CCBC Catonsville. Last week, I took the introductory workshop that is a prerequisite for using the facility. At home, I've been hard at work on the CAD files that will translate my Ziptie Lounger into some form that a CNC router will understand. All of this is in preparation for prototyping my first machine-made piece of furniture, which I've posted over at OpenDesk, a platform for distributed design. Distributed design, in its simplest form, operates something like Instructables -- a central online repository of DIY manuals that folks can follow to make their own products. However, making something from scratch still presents significant barriers to entry, namely skills, tools, and time.

OpenDesk, along with similar startup Assmbly, are challenging (or, to use a current term of art, "disrupt") the traditional design-manufacture-wholesale-retail model that the furniture business has operated on for a hundred years. Designs are uploaded to the OpenDesk site, where they can be downloaded directly for free or, for a fee, sent to a local networked fabber who will cut, sand, and drop-ship the parts to the consumer's doorstep. Everyone in the chain -- OpenDesk, designer, and fabber -- make a small profit. Due to the nature of both the fabrication machines and the distribution network, all of the products are flat-pack.

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