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Self-production, self-design, self-making and micro-production

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For non-italian readers: this post is very language-oriented as it is an attempt to set a common ground for some terms within our thesis. In Italy there is an overlapping meaning problem around different terms related to the word “design”, translated as “disegno” in the past, and not as “progetto”, literally “project”. This led to an ongoing discussion about the meaning of the word and its derivatives. We do not want to enter this discussion, but just set a common meaning within our work to better explain what we’re talking about. To non-italian people, some part of this article may sound just… weird. We like to discuss about the word’s meaning very much.

There are many texts whose aim is to organize in a common and shared way the words in the title: in Italy, each person has its own interpretation since the publication of  Autoprogettazione? by Enzo Mari and earlier. Today the situation is not too different, with neologisms such as “Auto-design” that causes misleading meanings of the relying concept.

We don’t want to enter the discussion, as there is already a huge amount of words spent to define this problem. Just we want to let people understand what we’re talking about. All that in our small-scale productive environment.

I self-produce, self-design, self-make for me, for my friends of with my friends. Wouldn’t it become co-making, then? Yes, but to oversimply the concept, we will refer to all this stuff as Self-production, considering (self)design and (self)making as two steps within it.

Given this context, we intend micro-production as a commercially-oriend self-production. In this case it’s needed to optimize our product according to a small-scale production logic, with very important consequences on the usual workflow of non-commercial self-production. We need to deal with available manufacturing processes and production timings at a deeper level, possibly considering the semi-automatization of some manufacturing steps. Moreover, the making phase generates feedbacks that modifies the design phase and vice-versa: each product batch contributes to the optimization of the process.

In a micro-production logic we have to evaluate the product in its whole lifecycle: design – production – distribution – sell – disposal, leading to a higher complexity. It’s useful to retrieve feedback and re-iterate each phase to optimize our idea in a productive logic.

On the countrary, self-production has more purposes, going from education to personal use (costs, fun, custom solutions…).

Self-production is just a way to make things, not limited to particular processes, tecniques or materials. Thus it’s not possible to define a precise method, or a specific procedure, especially if the products are made of regenerated/reused materials and designed according to their temporary availability.

Often Sustainable design/production is associated with products made of waste, or production scraps, adapted and assembled together to fit our needs. However this is a downstream approach to the production system, and it is a sympthom of sickness: it means that the manufacturing industry it’s not able to reuse its own output, and instead of putting them back in its cycles as nutrients for other systems, it just generates rubbish.

Obviously sustainable production is much more then just self-production and reuse, as they’re not enough and they do not represent nowadays a complete alternative to the current system. However, they’re part of the solution: we have a lot of goods, and a lot of scrap, everywhere. All these materials can be recovered, regenerated and reused, thus becoming new products. In the meanwhile, we can re-organize our production system starting upstream, from the sources of our problems.