Doxa Orange right arrow In praise of design-hacking

via Flickr: underbiteman

via Flickr: underbiteman

Our friend Scott Burnham just released a new article for the Royal Society of the Arts titled “Finding the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking”, with a perspective on design that is, at least for now, the outsider’s view in traditional design thought. (Scott commissioned Urban Play in Amsterdam with Droog Design last year.) We are happy that Rebar’s projects serve as part of his argument in the article (available as a pdf here) because even though we haven’t much used the term hacking to describe our approach, it fits. According to Scott,

Hacking finds the truth in systems. The first thing software hackers do when they gain access to a program’s source code is explore and share hidden code and functions not documented by the original programmers. When design hackers open and take apart products to re-work them, the type and quality of wood found beneath the paint or the interior parts used are discussed widely. Hacking brings the inner realities of products to the surface. It reveals the complete aesthetic and exposes secrets.

True that… in fact, this gets at one of the apocryphal associations behind the name Rebar–the hidden structure of everyday things. Hacking, whether by way of remixing or repurposing, exposes hidden structures and in doing so, creates new meanings.

via Recetas Urbanas (

One of the other actors mentioned in Scott’s article is Santiago Cirugeda, a Spanish architect/artist working in the loopholes of law and the interstitial, liminal and transitory spaces of the city. He has a knack for marrying the performative and the architectural with some captivating projects. Back in 1997, Cirugeda was looking for a way to install a playground in Seville, but after being turned down by the planning authority he applied for a dumpster permit and built the playground inside the dumpster. The description of the methods for doing this are posted, open source, on his website, Recetas Urbanas. Total cost for the permits: 53 Euros … seeing kids playing on a stripey see-saw in a dumpster: priceless. While this kind of creative threading of the legal eye of the needle definitely belongs in the urban hacker’s textbook (which would, no doubt, quickly be hacked), other of Cirugeda’s projects such as throwing up some graffiti, then erecting his own scaffolding and donning a city worker’s uniform and painting over the graffiti, are elegant in their union of the practical, performative and the absurd.

The eventual end of this line of thought is that the notion of hacking as a separate, responsive act to design is unnecessarily dualistic. What if instead of this duality there were just people who made things and re-made them, over and over? The roles of hacker and designer are necessarily created out of a world where branding and authorship serve the ends of capitalism. The dominant definition of designer is one who creates value that can be sold, whereas hackers mostly work for free. Just think of John Lennon singing ‘Imagine there’s no designers and no hackers…” and it almost seems possible.

Written by Rebar

October 20th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Hacking,Publications