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OpenDesk offers open source furniture designs for local manufacture


August 25, 2013

OpenDesk allows users from anywhere in the world to download digital designs from a range of furniture pieces

OpenDesk allows users from anywhere in the world to download digital designs from a range of furniture pieces

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Created by the same young British designers behind Wikihouse, OpenDesk is a set of open source furniture designs that aim to bypass shipping and transport costs by keeping manufacturing local.

After an OpenDesk design is downloaded, users can take the design to a CNC mill, get it cut out, take the parts home and start building. “We chose to go open source initially because we wanted to get positive feedback from people on what they thought of designs and ensure they could fabricate for their own personal use if they had access to a CNC mill,” Nick Ierodiaconou, OpenDesk director and lead designer, told Gizmag.

The design team decided to launch the OpenDesk platform once they had created their own furniture designs, giving them the opportunity to track the spread of downloads and ensure that designs could be made by different fabricators around the world.

“With OpenDesk we are specifically interested in building up a network for the distributed making of furniture (and other products), focused on a model which connects digital designers to digital fabricators,” says Ierodiaconou. “For the moment we are focusing on CNC, but our plan is to branch into other forms of fabrication such as 3d-printing in the coming months.”

The OpenDesk range currently features six items including the Desk, Café Table, Meeting Table, Edie set, Edie Stool and Edie Table. Each OpenDesk download has a unique web URL which allows users to take photos of their process and share their experience online, offering insights or tips along the way. The OpenDesk construction system is based on the use of wooden fins that lock together to form a robust furniture structure, without the need for power tools or nails. The user can also choose their own type of material, which may depend on what local makers offer. Currently in the UK the use of FSC certified birch and plywood has been very popular.

“In terms of ease of assembly, you can choose how involved you want to be in the making of your OpenDesk, from download and mill yourself, to self-assembly to a hands off fully assembled service,” says Ierodiaconou. “However, OpenDesk is actually more a Freemium model - in the sense that you can also choose to buy an OpenDesk from a local maker, at which point you commit to pay the maker their fixed quote, the designer a fixed royalty of their choosing, and the platform a fee, all of which is transparently communicated to you.”

Digital plans from the OpenDesk series are available for download online and a network of global fabricators can be found of the OpenDesk sister site, FabHub. The designs are also currently on display at the Design Museum London as part of “The Future is Here” exhibition, running until October 2013.

Whether this approach delivers value for money will of course depend on the cost of sourcing material and labor in your neighborhood. That aside, OpenDesk is an indication of the shape of things to come in the manufacturing sector as access to fabrication methods such as 3D printing becomes more widespread.

Source: OpenDesk via Designboom

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

The amount of waste material that the design generates more than offsets the benefits of local manufacture.


Regarding the previous comment, wouldn't you get the same amount of waste material if the items were produced from a commercial factory? It seems they probably use the same process.

I do wonder how much you save on shipping costs, since the lumber still has to be shipped to your area, but it is probably cheaper to ship a flat board than a bunch of parts in a box. Also, there are probably closer sources of boards than complete furniture. Also, the boards would have to be shipped from the lumber yard to the manufacturer and then the furniture shipped to you, as opposed to the lumber shipped to your area, so there is reduced shipping.

It occurs to me that in addition to CNC, it might be possible to create some designs that could be laser cut, which might be cheaper.

One big advantage, of course, is the ability to customize the design. You could, for example, modify the dimensions to exactly fit your space.

David Leithauser

@ David Charles Leithauser

Did you look at how badly the pattern was laid out. No profitable factory wastes like that.


It's incorrect to call it "open source furniture", since the designs on OpenDesk are not Open Source, they have a restrictive (non-open) licence.

They are expecting you to buy the designs, the "open" bit is just a gimmicky marketing angle to hook into the "maker" trend.

Robert Cousins
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