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Strakes and promises objectives

of the convivial tools and projects

2013

Our goal is to present an overview of current convivial projects in the graphic design field. We cannot find a better definition of the convivial tool than in the work of Ivan Illich : “ tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency, thus simultaneously eliminating the need for either slaves or masters and enhancing each person's range of freedom. (1).

Ivan Illich’s ambition was immense : “ I believe that society must be reconstructed to enlarge the contribution of autonomous individuals and primary groups to the total effectiveness of a new system of production designed to satisfy the human needs which it also determines.”(2) He was a revolutionary and not a reformist that has sometimes gotten lost. So it is complex endeavour to understand what remains of Illich’s legacy. But maybe it is his conception of the tool that remains the most relevant.

In that sense, the Free and Open-Source Software (F/OSS, FOSS) is an Illichian project whose ambition is to invest time and knowledge to create authentic tools. In the field of graphic design, the “open source software practice” is not limited to FOSS usage but is inscribed in the creation process.

Some of the work that we present does not use programming or even computers. The project conception’s call for open source ambitions, free of exact tracing from what happened in programming. Those works do not call for all the FOSS characteristics but are created in collaboration, lead to tool creation, share their sources or techniques…

It now means to us to seize convivial projects and tools that contains the characteristics of “post-modernity” : open-source, contributive economy, collective intelligence.

IT (Information Technology) developed itself through open systems. It is with the personal computer that IT abandoned open systems for closed systems moving from the research environment to industry. This move transformed the computer into a product of mass consumption. But, to fund the development of software, companies created licenses and so proprietary software.
The arrival of the GNU (4), a free operating system launched in 1983, marked a special moment in the way of producing a tool in the legal rules that govern:
Freedom 0 – the freedom to use the work,
Freedom 1 – the freedom to study the work,
Freedom 2 – the freedom to copy and share the work with others,
Freedom 3 – the freedom to modify the work, and the freedom to distribute modified and therefore derivative works.

Programmers decide on their own to start a work with no remuneration. After that, they propose their work, that might be not completely “finalized” to a community : release early, release often. The collective intelligence will seize the work and scale it up. The strength of this mode of production is to perpetually Improve owning to early adopters. This (snow ball) effect creates many and various iterative versions.

Any single idea or concept was owed to the “giants” that preceded their author. (6: If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.) That led some to suggest the “death of the author” theory replaced by a collective actor, eventually anonymous.

A similar process is used in the contributive work. There are no authors but segments around a project. Wikipedia is THE collaborative platform that is fed with this knowledge, this collective intelligence, to publicize it. This the crowdsourcing principle (8). If this kind of practice emerges in graphic design , we could enjoy the cumulative knowledge by consulting the sources, steps and technics to, share our work. Graphic design could make this leap and find another way to work on projects.

A Graphic designer usually adopts the problem solver position. (S)he responds to a client demand and proposes solutions. The solutions come only from him/herself or his/her team. The challenge is to know if the FOSS production mode is usable in graphic design. The graphic design projects that we present have the ambition to be designed by a large community or people separated by huge distances. The contributive work is in the spirit of the age (9). Google, a closed system, now proposes several tools for contributive work such as Google Drive.

The time and space crush that the internet allows transform the ways to work in every field. It is logical that programmers, those who are on the front line of those advances, are the ones from who we “copy” this production mode. We stand on their shoulders.

Like any artefact, tools carry meanings (10). When we choose a closed computing tool, it contains inherent values conveyed through the company that distributes it. Those values are not diabolical, they reflect the entrepreneurial desire to sustain profits. So, design software is the highest common denominator tools for “creatives”. They are meant for the typical user. They are not the most efficient tools. Are new closed versions real innovations or a way to sustain recurring incomes ?

A FOSS user does not have the same position as a closed software user because (s)he is not only a consumer. (S)he is a “prosumer” (11) : consumer AND producer, a member of the community that creates his tools. When (s)he chooses FOSS, (s)he supports the values carried by that software and the possibility to render his/her tool more adapted to his/her practice, projects, and studies.

For some, what characterizes the prosumer is that transforming the tool (s)he commits an individuation process (12). On the other hand, those who use closed tools, follow the reverse path, the one of a desindividuation. Well, there are different ways to use a closed tool. But the ability to propose modifications or even to improve this tool to adapt it to specific tasks is absent.

Ivan Illich considers that there are two watersheds in industrial production. The first one is the emergence of a new tool : the positive externalities generated by this tool are superior to the negative ones. The
second step is when they are superior to positives externalities. It is possible that the Adobe “cloud”, is the entrance to the second watershed. Adobe's goal is to give access to all the suite for a $ 60 a month and to benefit from all the upgrades with no fees. With the cloud, there is no physical copy of the suite and the user will have pay the $ 60 a month for his entire career. It is no longer possible for a user to buy a version and keep it until he considers that it is obsolete. If you cease to pay, you lose everything.

One of the FOSS and convivial projects challenges is to know how to remunerate the creators or the members of a community. Let's think about Processing creators. One their forms of remuneration is the multitude of projects built with their software. This form of retribution might be very rewarding for those who conceive new software but it is not a way to make a living even if they gain a certain notoriety. A proposition was made by Dmytri Kleiner, the Peer production license (14). Relayed by Michel Bauwens, creator of the P2P foundation, under the expression of semi-open license. The idea is to leave room for contribution and even professional use but under certain conditions. A peer who contributes to the community can freely use the software even for commercial use. The user who does not contribute to the community can freely use the tool but only for non-commercial usage. Last but not least, the user who does not contribute but wants to use the tool for commercial usage will have to give a certain form of payment. What impact would this kind of idea have in the graphic design field? Can we imagine platforms where the sources and techniques are freely shared in a community but only the contributors can freely use this knowledge?
FOSS are not ersatz versions of closed software. They open new doors of opportunity unprecedented for creators. They are another form that can only improve themselves in the orientation of a community (15). In any case this is the promise that they represent.

Notes :
(1) Ivan Illich, Tools for conviviality, 1973.

(2) Ivan Illich, op. Cit., : « ??» Moreover Illich engages an appalling apology of Mao's China.

(3) Free Open Source Software (FLOSS) is an expression that gathers in the same time free softwares and open source software. It allows to avoid specialist polemics because both are opposed to the closed software model. A FOSS is a software that we are free to study, copy, share, modify and distribute only if it is redistributed under the same conditions.

(4) GNU is a free computer operating system launched in 1983 by Richard Stallman, and maintained by the GNU project. GNU is a recursive acronym, a form that hackers particularly cherished and that uses the “ mise en abîme”. Ex : TINT, for Tint Is Not Tico. For GNU it means Gnu’s Not Unix. The GNU system allows to install every FOSS software not only the ones designed under the context of GNU. The first operating version of the GNU project was build in 1992 with the use of the Linux kernel. Wiki

(5) The four freedom of the GNU's General Public License (GPL) can be found in the OSP (Open Source Publishing) text Relearn for the magazine ∆⅄⎈, n°1, BAT Editions , 2011 October, p.35-46.

(6) « If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants. » Letter to Robert Hooke, 15 February 1676.

(7) The « french-theory », specially represented by Roland Barthes et Michel Foucault, announced as from the 60’s -70’s, « the death of the author » to the benefits of the text itself, which other texts respond to, and the active role of the reader. This intertextuality, still theoric, is now a common practice with the hypertexts links.
(8) Crowdsourcing : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing

(9) Spirit of the age is a translated expression from the german Zeitgeist, a word that designate the intellectual atmosphere a time, and more its conception of the world.

(10) Robin Kinross, Modern typography. An essay in critical history, Hyphen Press, first published in 1992, p. ?. For Robin Kinross, the Gutenberg’s press contains the inherent values of modernity : mass production, assembly lines, standardisation. It is a machine of the machines.Designing Our Own Graves

(11) Dimitri Siegel,Designing Our Own Graves, ???, 2006.

(12)The individuation is the creation and distinction process of an individual. Bernard Stiegler, influenced by Gilbert Simondon’s (1924-1989) body of work that we are rediscovering nowadays, developed the idea that the participation to FOSS is an actual mode of individuation. Bernard Stiegler during the OuiShare festival. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_aEB6YoJP0 Video posted on June there 14th 2013 by OuiShareTV. )

(13) Illich developed his critic of the industrial society based on different examples such as : school (Deschooling society), transports (Energy and equity) or medecin (Medical nemesis). "…"