You gotta know the rules in order to break them

Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam is hosting a series of evenings wherein presentations and discussions are organised around the topic: “Skills for the next economy”. After ‘tinkering’ and ‘cherry picking’, the latest evening was about “the hackers’ reflex’. What can we learn from the hacker movement? And how can we become more hacker-minded ourselves?

While hacking might, for some people, still evoke negative reactions, hacking in itself is actually a very constructive activity. Hacking in the broadest sense is about ‘finding applications that are not intended by the creator of the product’. As such it can be applied to domains other than computing alone. It’s a mindset, wherein existing products, services or even business models are redesigned to serve other purposes or serve current goals even better. This ‘hacking mindset’ is very much in line with our approach at STBY.

Hacking is about understanding

Core for all hacks is that it starts with having a very thorough understanding of the current system: before you can hack something, you need to understand how it works. Or how it is stated in the famous hackers’ Manifesto “Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity”. This is also core in our design research projects: before we can point to opportunities we need to understand the context we’re operating in. What drives the users? What drives the stakeholders at the client side? What is already available? What barriers exist? A firm understanding of the current situation provides a strong basis for later ideation of how it could be different.

Hacking is about looking for unexpected solutions

Hacking also requires creative skills: thinking out of the box and not being drawn back by limitations but rather find inspiration in them. Unexpected solutions do not necessarily mean completely new solutions, it’s also about being critical to existing solutions and adjusting them to improve them or using existing solutions to solve new problems. In our ideation workshops we ask participants to ‘suspend disbelief and defer judgement’ as good ideas often emerge from wild and crazy ideas.    

Hacking is about sharing

Open-source and transparency is at the core of the hackers’ mindset. Solutions, ideas or even concepts can only become better if you allow others to hack them as well. In that sense it’s really a co-creative approach. This is also very much present in our projects, for instance we often organise co-creation workshops wherein we bring people from many different background and disciplines together to jointly create new ideas and concepts. Additionally, this ‘openness’’ can also be achieved by giving trainings so that organisations can learn to do design research themselves, and as such, better hack themselves.

If you would replace the word ‘hacking’ in each of the above paragraphs with Design Research you’d come very close to our vision of what design research should do: be curious, think differently and be generous.

Image above: A hacked infant bodysuit: “The Baby Mop” courtesy of