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Product Service Systems: Third Space Studios
Julia Levitt, 22 Apr 09

476812749_f57d864ce0_top.jpgIf an expert artisan wants to open a shop that's fully equipped to let them do their thing – carpentry, bike maintenance, sewing, etc. – it can be an expensive up-front investment. But by pairing their excess (in this case, the evening or weekend time that their studio sits idle) with a community need (hobbyists who would love limited access to equipment and resources), they can reach an elegant solution.

That solution is something that I've started thinking of as the Third Place Studio, a collaborative solution between small business owners and communities of DIY enthusiasts. With the right technological support, third place studios could be a means of enabling local startup businesses, while letting others offshore space and setup for all the projects they dream up, but don't have a separate room to contain.

The idea of the shared artisan studio is one of the concepts that appears in Collaborative Services: Social Innovation and Design For Sustainability (PDF), a 200-page study on product service systems and similar concepts produced by sustainable design visionaries François Jégou and Ezio Manzini. The report contains a wealth of great ideas for creating new shared services and making existing models more appealing and effective.

For example, the Wood Atelier:

The system allows gradual access to a professional carpentry workshop, meeting the personal needs and taking into account the skill level of each user and providing a space where people can benefit from the experience of the others…
One doesn't need to do carpentry every day, but we also can't do quality work without the facility. This service covers parts of the cost of a professional facility through a large population of users, while keeping the costs of management low thanks to the electronic key system.

According to this plan, members could access a fully equipped carpentry shop as needed to work on their own projects. An electronic key would let them enter the space, and would also give them access to certain pieces of equipment. Only the machines that a particular member was qualified to operate would be accessible through his or her specific key – so the key system doubles as a means of ensuring safe and responsible behavior.

Another iteration is the "Second Hand Fashion Atelier," in which a fully equipped tailoring shop offers space and equipment for users to come in and doctor up their own Street Ready Vintage. Because dangerous equipment isn't so much of an issue with this model, there could be several formulas for pricing, including renting hourly use of a sewing machine and materials, adding a premium for expert assistance, or arranging group classes – perhaps combined with a clothing swap where participants can exchange used clothes and then alter them as needed.

Several versions of Third Place Studios are already thriving. In 2005 Wendy Tremayne, an artist, teacher, event producer and all-around innovator launched Swap-O-Rama-Rama, a model for clothing swap-and-alter extravaganzas that continues to be replicated in cities all around the U.S. and internationally. Another model is being used by organizations like Chicago's non-profit West Town Bikes. Though it's currently in a quiet phase due to its upcoming move, West Town hosts bi-weekly "Open Shop" events where cyclists can show up and pay a small fee for access to space, equipment and an experienced maintenance staff as they work on their own bikes. The Print Studio in Hamilton, Ontario is a non-profit arts organization that rents studio and equipment access to working artists on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis. And entrepreneurial types have launched other third place studios as a for-profit business model. The Prep Kitchen, for example, provides ready-to-go ingredients (pre-chopped, soaked and boiled) for homemade dinners. Busy people can come and enjoy the process of assembling and customizing each dish – all of which can be eaten that day or frozen for later – in a fully equipped, clean kitchen facility.

We really like these ideas for consolidating access and providing social spaces where people can work on projects individually, but not necessarily alone. And we love the idea that we might one day not need to buy, maintain and store all of the various specialty objects that we only use for a few hours – or, in the case of a power drill, minutes – in their lifetimes. We've discussed product service systems often, as part of our collective brainstorming toward a post-ownership society. Though the name Product Service System is fairly dry (and, we've found, confusing to many), the main idea behind PSS is that you own the service, not the stuff. When the hassles of ownership clearly outweigh the benefits, a PSS is a logical solution.

Product service systems aren't all out-of-the-ordinary: one of the most popular ones around is the gym membership. Car-sharing, possibly the first PSS to really take off as such, has brought the post-ownership concept squarely into the sustainability movement because of its impact on vehicle-related emissions. But what about extending that model to other products and services that aren't quite so obvious? Owning less, sharing more and taking advantage of systems that make it easy to do so could propel us toward a new future of affluence … one in which it's not the stuff you own, but rather the stuff you can use, the community you enjoy sharing with, and the time and stress saved in the process, that are the truest measures of personal wealth.

Photo credit: flickr/Homegrown Skinny, Creative Commons license.

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There used to be a bicycle coop years ago...I was a member. I think it was in Fremont? You could use the tools, get advice, etc.; it was great. There used to be a carpentry coop in Everett near the PUD HQ too but that's gone now too. It was a wonderland of table saws drill presses and piles of wood! Always wondered what happened to that place...

Posted by: Scott Schreffler on 22 Apr 09

There used to be a bicycle coop years ago...I was a member. I think it was in Fremont? You could use the tools, get advice, etc.; it was great.

Yes, it's called Wright Brothers.

Posted by: jen on 22 Apr 09

The Waterside Workshops and Missing Link bike co-op in Berkeley, CA are operating on something like this principle for bicycles (and some other things at Waterside), although less organized than your usual car-share program, and neither has a full range of carpentry tools. And Tool Lending Libraries have the tools, but not the space. If only someone would put the two together . . .

Posted by: Joe Morris on 24 Apr 09

I'd love to see empty school buildings used for this kind of thing.

There are a lot of these around. They don't need to be in great shape.

A classroom is a perfect sized space for a shop or studio. They're often airy and have big windows. Science and art classrooms have sinks.

Might need an electricity upgrade. Older classrooms didn't have need for lots of outlets.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 24 Apr 09

Check out Men's Sheds in Australia:

Posted by: Markus on 25 Apr 09

Are there "shops" of any sort in the Tampa bay area?

Posted by: pat on 5 May 09

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