Design Mai
Digitalability Symposium
Tools, Talents and Turnovers: New Technologies in Design
Berlin, 12-13 May, 2007

Session: Working Environment and New Business Models

'Can Organized Networks Make Money for Designers?'

Ned Rossiter

My interest in this talk is to consider what the political concept of  
organized networks might mean for designers wondering how to make a  
buck. I know for sure that I won't be able to offer a one-size-fits  
all business model, so if that's what you were hoping for, then be  
disappointed now. Instead, I will focus on what I consider the  
primary conditions that attend the practice of collaboration in an  
era of network cultures and informational economies. My hypothesis is  
that without paying attention to the way networks are built and what  
makes them tick, you can forget about the rest, which includes  
whatever money-making potential you might glean from your design  
activities. This is a matter of structural and organizational  
fundamentals that underpin collaboration.

Having said there's no magic-bullet for money-making in this talk, in  
the second part I will sketch one proposal: the creation of new  
institutions for design education that reside outside the formal  
system of the art school and university. For it is in new modalities  
of education, I believe, that designers have a particularly strong  
contribution to make in terms of advancing knowledge and practices in  
their field, while creating an open resource that serves as a means  
of income generation and research financing. This is my proposal for  
a new business model.

Organized Networks and Creative Collaboration

First, let me briefly outline the concept of organized networks. Over  
the past 30 years or so we have witnessed the institutions of  
modernity  - universities, governments, firms, unions - struggle to  
reconcile their hierarchical structures of organization with the  
flexible, partially decentralized and transnational flows of culture,  
finance and labour. There is much phenomena, in other words, that  
escapes the managerial gaze of modern institutions. In other ways, of  
course, we find increasingly sophisticated technologies of  
surveillance and data tracking deployed to determine our movements  
and practices. But this does not result in increased efficiencies or  
productivity in terms of the management of people and things. Just  
the opposite, in fact.

Accompanying these moribund technics of what can be called networked  
organizations is the emergence of organized networks. Whereas  
networked organizations can be understood as modernity's institutions  
rebooted into the digital age, organized networks, by contrast, are  
social-technical forms that co-emerge with the development of digital  
information and communication technologies.

Organized networks do not need to try and recalibrate existing  
institutional practices into social-technical dynamics of digital  
media. Instead, they need to undergo a scalar transformation that  
enables the possibility of sustainability for the proliferation of  
practices across numerous social-technological platforms, many of  
which are highly unstable and fragile.

Let me give some examples. Putting aside all the hype around Web2.0,  
there's no question that the rise of social technologies have enabled  
a massive increase in the number of people experiencing new forms of  
creative collaboration. There's an exceptional busyness to online  
social life and, it must be said, exhaustion. The digital elite can  
do two things: log off and outsource. Welcome to the Cult of  
Wilderness2.0. Where Nature was once packaged as a Sacred Tour in the  
19th century as a means of restoring health to upper-classes tired of  
the city's industrial lungs, today it reappears in the form of a  
holiday from the keyboard and the capacity to earn money from another  
sucker who crunches the code.

This is the plight of creative labour. Indeed, it is the common that,  
in its exploitation, also enables the possibility of refusal. The  
precondition for escape, however, is organization. The challenge for  
the loose relations of network cultures - within which creative  
labour resides - is to find the social-technical means through which  
new institutional forms may emerge. But don't get me wrong: I am not  
suggesting unionisation as a panacea for creative labour.

Collaboration is the key resource for the invention of new  
institutional forms. German media activist Florian Schneider  
understands collaboration as 'working together with an agency with  
which one is not immediately connected'.[1] Importantly, such a  
notion of collaboration does not assume participants share something  
in common; rather, it recognises 'the common' as that which is  
constructed precisely through relations of difference, tension and  

What, in other words, constitutes the common of creative labour when  
different capacities and conflicting values and interests are brought  
into relation? And how might creative practice be open to conflict  
and the expression of difference as constituting the common of  
collaboration? These questions are necessarily left open, since it is  
only in the situation of creative collaboration that specificities  
may be found. I now wish to turn to the topic of new education  
models, which I consider as one of the more obvious ways in which  
organized networks, in their scalar transformation, may obtain  
economic resources.

New Design Education Models are New Business Models

As government funding for higher education has diminished over the  
past decade (or longer, in some national cases), universities have  
found themselves increasingly positioned within a market economy.  
This structural relation alone locates education as a commodity  
object. Inevitably there will be barriers to access learning in such  
instances. An alternative -- open access learning -- has great merit,  
but there are some fundamental issues to do with cost of delivery  
(labour, production, infrastructure, etc.) and technological modes of  
communication that must be addressed. Key here is the connection  
between peer-to-peer collaboration and new business models.

The glacial temporality of university curriculum development and  
subjugation of teachers by the life-depleting demands of audit  
cultures sets a challenge for design education programs that wish to  
synchronise their curricula with the speed of popular media  
literacies. To distinguish market and user hype from quality that  
makes a substantive difference is near impossible. Consensus will not  
be found beyond the fleeting moments of micro-adoption among A-list  
bloggers and their links, or whatever other community of users you  
care to name. Ratified standards for design education within the  
cultures of networks do not exist.

As the university increasingly loses its monopoly on the provision of  
knowledge as a result of neoliberal governance and the advent of peer- 
to-peer and user-producer media systems, design education is in  
crisis mode. Best practice is frequently found outside of university  
degree programs. Expertise has become distributed across a population  
of practioners and everyday users. How, then, might such knowledge  
feed back into university programs? Can formal accreditation for  
autonomous education be extended to non-university actors? Are such  
processes even desirable?

Crucial here are the different temporalities afforded by research  
platforms positioned outside of the temporal order of the market and  
its post-Fordist modality of just-in-time production, which  
underscores the habitus of the university today.[2] In a recent  
posting to the edu-factory mailing list -- an initiative by mostly  
young activist researchers associated with uni-nomadi (an informal  
teaching program across a network of media and social centres in  
Italy involving key participants such as Antonio Negri) -- Taiwan  
based academic Jon Solomon phrases the predicament of time and the  
university as follows:

'The students have been so disempowered by the compulsory national  
primary and secondary education system (which favors the production  
of an elite) that when it comes to the university organization of  
their own temporal rythms, they are completely passive in their forms  
of resistance (and the faculty doesn't provide any relief or  
alternative resources)'.[3]

How, then, to create different temporalities which enable process of  
counter-subjectivisation? A number of core elements come into play in  
the repositioning of research and teaching outside of the university.  
And these, I would add, are not without precendents: think of the  
mechanics institutes as sites of popular learning for the working  
classes in the 19th century (albeit enframed by the morally uplifting  
values of the middle-classes), adult education classes after the  
second world war, the rise of alternative schooling movements such as  
Montessori in the 60s and 70s, and so on and so forth.[4]

My point is that counter-sites of learning at the current conjuncture  
are imbued with qualities special to the social-technical dimension  
of network cultures, and conditioned by the political economy of the  
informational university.

Collaborative practices within the creative industries and network  
cultures are now well established as the primary mode of production  
and communication. The business models which sustain the combination  
of service labour and innovation as they are located on the margins  
of industry are less understood. Primarily comprising of 'informal  
economies' (symbolic, voluntary, word-of-mouth) and sustained  
economically by various forms of financial support (parental, small  
government funds such as the 'citizen wage' or grants, associations  
with universities) and wealth generation (e.g. Anderson's 'long  
tail' [5]), there is great scope for further development and  
understanding of new business models.[6]

Sketches of Networks of Design

As far as design practice and research goes, there is much to gained,  
in my view, through an exploration of a form of radical empiricism  
that intrigued Deleuze in his study of Hume and throughout his life,  
where 'relations are external to their terms'.

How, in other words, can an ontology of design be understood in terms  
of its social-technical arrangements that operate in trans-scalar  
ways, where micro-practices and macro-forces interpenetrate each  
other, and where the power of design subjectivisation is instantiated  
in the very moment when the form of design connects with the  
particularities of social practice and in so doing brings borders  
into question?

If there is an ontology to be found in design networks, it consists  
of the trans-scalar capacity of networks to traverse the complex  
field of institutional codings and practices of subjectivisation. In  
this trans-scalar movement one finds the potential for new  
instituional forms to emerge. And the tensions that subsist within  
such movements comprise 'the political' of networks.

Berlin's creative industries and urban transformations furnish just  
one of many possibilities for such an exploration. But what is at  
stake in such undertakings, beyond a seemingly benign intellectual  
curiosity? Let me close with three suggestions.

First, as I noted earlier in my talk, there is a great urgency for  
new institutional forms. Tactical media holds a tremendous reservoir  
of practices and social-political experiences. Yet tactics are prone  
to mirroring the short-termism of the enemy, as found for instance in  
the managerial culture of the informational university and, more  
broadly, post-Fordist capital. How to communicate the sociality of  
tactics in trans-generational, transnational and transcultural ways  
is a strategic challenge for design networks, and one that will  
assist, in my view, in the invention of new institutional forms.

Second, it is all very well to accummulate repositories of open  
knowledge for design, but how to mobilise them? This is the problem  
and politics of translation. Along with inconsistencies that will  
always exist at the level of technical standards (without  
inconsistency there wouldn't be innovation, after all), there is the  
additional and perhaps deeper complexity of culture. A politics of  
translation is always a multi-way street of incommunicado.[7]

Finally, there is the question of time. Time as exhaustion that  
underscores the uncertainties of labour and life. Time as the  
'vanishing mediator' (Balibar) that attends the imminent crisis of  
climatic transformation. And time of the decision that individuates  
the action of refusal, or the refusal to act. This, I submit, is the  
social-political territory of design theory and practice today.

[1] Florian Schneider, 'Collaboration: Some Thoughts Concerning New  
Ways of Learning and Working Together', 2006, http://

[2] Jon Solomon, 'Knowledege Conflicts, Self-Education and Common  
Production', posting to edu-factory mailing list, 22 April 2007,

[3] Ibid.

[4] As Julian K├╝cklich has alerted to me: 'In the German context,  
there's also the model of the "Volkshochschule" (higher education  
institutions without access restrictions)'.  My argument for teaching  
and learning outside of the university should not be misconstrued as  
a plea for this somehow outdated and unsuccessful model of the  
dissemination of knowledge.

[5] Chris Anderson, 'The Long Tail', Wired 12.10 (2004), http://

[6] For a study of working conditions and experiences of new media  
workers in Amsterdam, see Rosalind Gill, Technobohemians or the New  
Cybertariat? New Media Work in Amsterdam a Decade after the Web,  
Network Notebooks no. 1, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures,  

[7] See Incommunicado 05: Information Technology for Everybody Else,  
organized by Geert Lovink, Soenke Zehle and the Institute of Network  
Cultures, De Balie, Amsterdam, 15-17 June, 2005, http://

Related Readings

Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, 'Dawn of the Organised Networks',  
Fibreculture Journal 5 (2005), 

Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, 'From Precarity to Precariousness and  
Back Again: Labour, Life and Unstable Networks', Fibreculture Journal  
5 (2005),

Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, 'Towards a Political Anthropology of  
New Institutional Forms', ephemera: theory & politics in organization  
6.4 (2006), 

Ned Rossiter, Organised Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New  
Institutions, Rotterdam: NAi Publications, 2006, http://

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