What the hack?

Crowd-led design, thinking fit-for-purpose, giving things a go. What's the idea with hacking?

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes

I had a plan for Feeding this week. I knew what I wanted to do. I had the whole Day 10 mapped out. And then I watched the Culture Show. And found out about design hacking.

Bam. Everything turned on its head.

Design hacking – or the principle of taking designed products and altering, combining or reassembling them to make them fit for your own purposes – has been about for decades. A little post Culture Show research (and an insightful RSA pamphlet by Scott Burnham), revealed that consumer-interruption in the design process has led to some of the things I consider essential to my daily life. Like the mountain bike. Or the iPhone.

But design hacking goes still further than informing how commercial businesses observe, then develop new products. It can also be an enabler, a way of leveling the playing field, of accessing elusive product advancements to meet the needs of the masses. Burnham writes about how in some African countries ‘repair’ shops offer design hacks on old mobile handsets. In a place where the latest models are out of reach for all but the few, these shops are changing what people have access to, merging, melding and updating so everyone ends up with something that’s fit for purpose in a place where phones and the technology they offer are quickly becoming a fundamental means of communication and business.

For some, design hacking is also a way of claiming back a sense of individuality. Of breaking the mould and making something that works for you, in your life as you lead it. The IKEA Hackers website epitomises this ethos. Hundreds of people taking flatpack and repurposing it for their own ends. Turning TV units into play pens, bookcases into benches, butcher’s blocks into sideboards. Ingenious, enviable and sometimes downright weird, this is a place where the manual is obsolete and where personal preference rules supreme. So long as you have the imagination.

And plenty of glue.

Inspired by what I’d seen and read I decided to try my own design hack, creating something out of existing objects that fulfilled my own specific need. Now I’m no DIYer and have never been all that handy so I knew some sort of bespoke furniture was a touch ambitious.  So I kept it small. And relevant to my own life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pasta recently. Partly for client work, partly because I’ve finally finished making my way through The Sopranos and partly because it’s almost a food group of its own in our house. But measuring out the perfect amount of pasta – particularly spaghetti – can be tricky. The jars you normally get don’t measure in any way, the measurers you get end up just another thing to clutter up the utensils drawer.

And so my design hack was born. I took a common-or-garden utensils jar and –using a bit of hacking ingenuity – turned it into a spaghetti dispenser. Which actually works. As I considered, cut, painted and glued, re-cut, re-painted and re-glued I felt liberated. Taking things into my own hands and blending my knowledge, tools and what was already available to me to create something unique, bespoke and fit for purpose.

It might be small and seem a bit pointless to you, but for me it works. It fits into my life, and onto my counter, and is saving me wastefully cooking too much spaghetti to eat, or worse eating it all and then being too full to even get up off my chair.

It’s not a huge leap to translate the design hacking principle into writing. Why stick what the ‘products’ around you dictate you should do? Merge, meld and update to create something that works for you, in your life, as you lead it.

Thanks Culture Show. That’s one Day 10 very well spent.

Now, anyone fancy a perfectly portioned puttanesca?

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