The other morning while trawling through my emails at work I stumbled across the kickstarter project of Linda Benett an ex student at UTS DAB who developed an idea for DIY concrete rings and now sells them via a custom web store.
Whilst reading about the project three thoughts came to mind about architects and the web. What is the potential for Architects to crowd fund projects, what are the benefits of designing DIY products, and how many architects and designers are selling objects / services via web stores?
Architects Using Crowd Funding
Recently I researched Australian crowd funding operators for a supermanoeuvre project. During my search I unearthed a few interesting cases of Architects exploring this revenue source to physically build projects. Architecture AU wrote an interesting piece on this back in May 2012 identifying the revenue source as a novel way of architects gaining agency for their ideas. The X Pool, a floating public pool in New York City’s Hudson River, by PlayLab and Family Architects is so far the stand out project to have found success using this method. They raised over $41,000 from 1,203 backers, surpassing the goal of $25,000 in six days. Their campaign not only generated enough to explore the project further but also created overwhelming evidence that people wanted to see their project realised and achieve collective ownership through personalised tiles.
So why aren't more architects using crowd funding then? It seems it is because running a successful crowd funding campaign is very time consuming, and after that statistically likely to fail. On Kickstarter for instance only 43% are successful, and only 5% have raised more then $20,000. On top of this not only does the idea need to have legs but then there is the promotional graphics, snappy video with well thought out sales narrative, original and engaging rewards, constant campaign updates, promotion through other blogs, magazines, news platforms. Considering all this it doesn't seem such a bad idea to just approach a single patron client.
If the campaign is successful however crowd funding has the potential to provide what the architecture profession is sorely missing, control. A project backed, funded and appreciated by the public before it has even been started seems to be the holy grail of project situations.
Designing for DIY
In Linda Benett's project she uses the web for both revenue generation and for explaining the DIYness of her product. Nervous system take this one step further with design your own jewelry through a web app that incorporates physics simulation to generate forms. Their digital tool of sliders and buttons allows users to generate their own custom designs before linking through to a checkout and payment gateway. Through their website Nervous System are able to control all stages in the design and retail process from product description and social media promotion through to product design, selling and shipping.
Of course this works very well for small, highly variable and rapidly produced short run order objects but could it work for furniture or even architecture?
For the former, yes, the latter, well lets see. Furniture collectives like FAB and NOMI use web applications and payment gateways to control the entire design to sale process. Similarly open source DIY initiatives like OPEN DESK and SKETCHCHAIR do the same but within a different distribution framework, without the need for design tools or payment systems.
Controlling the Point of Sale
The two web stores identified so far show how individuals or collectives can take control of the retailing of their products. To set up a payment system though you must rely on a third party to provide the necessary software and transaction mechanisms.
In Linda's web store is set up using the service Shopify. The service provides themes in which to customise, explain your products, promote your business and ultimately sell, but obviously for a fee ($30, $80, or $180 a month depending on number of products and associated transaction fees).
For this to be an economically viable option there must be confidence in the product's success well before the store is set up or else you may as well go sell them out the back of a van.
So if you are contemplating taking control of a commercial destiny you ultimately need to know that your product will gain interest way before setting up costly systems. This is where crowd-funding platforms are so useful, even if funding is not successful a market can be tested and feedback generated on early prototypes. If successful then the next stage of product development and customer generation can be undertaken with a higher degree of confidence and a safety in the knowledge that you can finally ditch that architecture career.