Cultivating Commons by Design

The new annual theme of the MA Eco-Social Design is Commoning?! All students and teachers of the 1st year draw inspiration from the ideas and practices of cultivating Commons – in manifold ways. What are Commons? They are things/resources/projects that are managed by groups of people, who are not owners, but rather co-responsible and more or less equal users and/or creators. An example for traditional commons are communal meadows (to graze cows, etc), a modern one is Wikipedia (and many other peer-to-peer and open source initiatives). The verb commoning emphasizes that commons have to be created, designed, maintained, defended and/or reclaimed. Commoning is gaining traction as an alternative mode of practicing economies and cultures. More and more designers are engaging in commoning.

While from semester 2 on students define their projects autonomously (often with external partners), semester 1 provides sets of partners, roughly defined topics and aims to make it easier for the freshly arrived students to get into the experience of collaborating productively on complex projects.

Partners of semester 1 and their topics:

  1. co-working and co-housing for young people in Bolzano–Bozen. The project will be realized from 2020 on by the Province of Bolzano–Bozen. They asked us to design all kind of things that help to enable and communicate cooperative ways of working and living. This can include furniture and spatial setups, visualizations and imaginary scenarios, processes and rituals, audiovisual and interactive media, a visual identity and storytelling.
  2. Silke Helfrich – commons researchers and activist. She is working on a new book and on a pattern language of commons. She is convinced that both needs to be tackled not only through text, but also by visual and tangible languages. This is part of the course in Information Design. Individual students can decide to focus their whole project work on this, too. Find more about Silke Helfrich and here work on the

Both partners and topics cross-fertilize, overlap and can be combined, coming together in the integrated exhibition at the end of semester 1.

We will work in explorative and experimental ways, quickly developing rough mockups, models, sketches, visualizations and prototypes, for making ideas visible and tangible early on, to be able to discuss and test them. And to go ahead in further interactions.

The project is supported by the course in Design Research, accompanies the development of projects in a lively interplay, in semester 1, and continues in semester 2.

Partners wanted for the Summer Semester 2018, March to June. If you are commoning or you want to develop your activities in the spirit of commoning, and you are interested in collaborating with group of design students on your issues, please write to You can be a citizen initiative, a company, a public institution, … Please consider that we don’t offer straight forward design services, but comprehensive and open ended design exploration and activism (if you “just” need a new web site or logo, please turn to designers on the market). While the students might design visual identities, web sites and more, if it make sense within their design concept.

Icon by Visual Glow / Noun Project (CC BY 3.0 US)


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