Figuring Things Out Together: On the Relationship Between Design and Collective Practice

Anja Groten investigates matters of collectivity, drawing from the experience of working with the Amsterdam-based collective Hackers & Designers (H&D). H&D self-organizes activities at the intersection of technology, design, art, and education with a focus on hands-on learning and collaboration between practitioners from different fields. Along with organizing workshops, people involved with H&D produce on and offline publications and build open source tools and platforms.

The main thesis of Groten's research is that conventional design vocabularies cannot sufficiently express and account for collectivities' resistance to fixation and stabilization. Collective design challenges notions of individual authorship, differentiations between disciplines, product and process, user and maker, friendship, and work relations. While collectives shape particular affiliations and commitments, design approaches, and aesthetics, they also require perspectives on working and designing together that resist progress-based understanding of a design process.

Thus, collective practice is not to be misunderstood as a design method, or an antidote to an individualistic design approach. By means of several case studies, it is argued that the fragmentation of social and work relations is as much a characteristic of collective practice as the effort to sustain long-term relationships. As fragmented and permeable configurations, collectives take shape in response to the various contexts within which they travel, and in turn are implicated in such contexts. Collective practice is not fully deliberate, at least not in the same way as for instance ‘teamwork’, ‘the commons’, or ‘cooperativism’, are purposeful organizational frameworks for living, working or being together.

Collective design practices are situated. They are site, context, and time-specific, and so are their various expressions. Groten's research project makes the thresholds of collective practice legible by discussing the ways collectivity weaves together a range of places, legacies, objects, and people across practices, disciplines, geographies, and timelines. By means of several case studies, Anja Groten argues that a fragmentation of social and work relations is as much a characteristic of collective design practices as its effort to sustain long-term relationships.

Groten's research resonates in 'First, Then…Repeat. Workshopscripts in Practice' a self-published on and offline publication produced in collaboration with H&D.

First, Then... Repeat. Workshop Scripts in Practice

H&D has been organizing workshops since 2013, and along the way has established social-technical affinities that are loose and stable, temporary and ongoing. Meeting and befriending many practitioners and sister organizations since, H&D got acquainted with manifold, peculiar pedagogical formats, and experimental approaches to working, learning, and being together. This publication derives from an enthusiasm for the various ways collective learning environments take shape and grew out of a curiosity for the ways that such practices are shared across different localities, timelines, and experiences. It lives online 🌐 as well as a printed book 📚 and is part of an exploration into unusual, non-proprietary, open-source, free and libre publishing tools and workflows.
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Åbäke, Julia Bee, Loes Bogers, Naomi Chambers, Qianxun Chen, Gerko Egert, Petra Eros, Feminist Health Care Research Group, Feminist Search Tools Working Group, fanfare, André Fincato, Gabriel Fontana, Sarah Garcin, Erin Gatz, Anja Groten, James Bryan Graves, Giselle Jhunjhnuwala, Olivia Jaques, Nienke Huitenga-Broeren, Angela Jerardi, Pernilla Manjula Philip, Brian Massumi, Katherine Moriwaki, Mio Kojima, Heerko van der Kooij, Siwar Kraytem, Juliette Lizotte, Karl Moubarak, Hanna Müller, Luke Murphy, Santiago Pinyol, Susan Ploetz, Juli Reinartz, Sandy Richter, Alice Strete, Social Muscle Club, Workshop Project, Stefanie Wuschitz, Xin Xin.

Editor: Anja Groten
Design: Anja Groten, Juliette Lizotte
Development: Heerko van der Kooij, Maisa Imamović
Copy-editing: Georgie Sinclair
Proofreading: Loes Bogers

Paper Inside: Rebello, 90 grs
Paper Cover: Muskat Grijs, 290 grs
Printing: Drukkerij RaddraaierSSP
Binding: Swiss bound, with yellow open spine by AIGA Amsterdam

Publisher: self-published by Hackers & Designers,

With the kind support of Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie


Anja Groten's research project was part of the 'Making Matters' working group (2018-2021) and funded by the Dutch Research council (NWO).

See also: 'Making Matters. A Vocabulary of Collective Arts' ed. Janneke Wesseling, Florian Cramer with support of Anja Groten, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer (Het Nieuwe Instituut), Pia Louwerens and Marie-José Sondeijker (West Den Haag).