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Like a modern day pirate ship, the Design Piracy Institute (DPI) sails the high seas across the world to hijack design fairs and promote piracy as a force for creative innovation to the design community.

At each port of call, DPI “raids” design fairs with their bounty of “original” and “authentic” products by presenting a series of exhibitions, talks and workshops that challenge the dominant view of design piracy as simply an economic parasite. While recognizing the financial implications of piracy, the institute believes the unauthorized reproduction or modification of someone else’s design opens up design to more possibilities and makes it accessible to people too. DPI aims to be a platform for designers, manufacturers and pirates to openly discuss the issues behind design piracy.

Beyond a platform, the institute is also a research center for documenting and studying how design piracy is practiced and received in different countries and cultures. DPI will build up a physical and digital collection of piratical products as well as a media resource to better understand design piracy as a social and cultural phenomenon.

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Origins

DPI is an applied thesis project developed at the School of Visual Arts’ MFA in Design Criticism (D-Crit)—now known as the MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism. It builds upon a thesis written by Justin Zhuang on piracy and industrial design. In Piracy & Design: Rethinking Intellectual Property in the Third Industrial Revolution (2015), Zhuang examines how the rise of digital fabrication technologies such as 3D printing is changing relationships between piracy, intellectual property and industrial design. Beyond just a legal and economic issue, piracy is a reflection of society’s assumptions about the design process, who a designer is, and what design is for. Piracy is a ghost that will always haunt the world of design. Download the full thesis here.

 

DPI Design Identity

 

In collaboration with designers Melvin Tan and Darius Ou, DPI has developed a design identity inspired by traditional forms and perceptions of piracy. It uses the imperfect and awkward English form of the MS Gothic/Mincho family, a versatile and interchangeable Japanese typeface, as a nod to the amateur, the wrong, and the illegal — a homage to how this freely available Microsoft Office typeface is often used on the design of pirated products too. This type-based system is accompanied by a graphical element in the form of a yellow ‘X’, which recalls watermark symbols and also the cross found on the stereotypical skull and bones ☠ logo of the pirate flag. Unlike watermarks that protect, however, this symbol dissolves when documents marked with DPI’s identity is photocopied.

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↑DPI namecard
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↑Posters for a proposed “raid” of the Salone del Mobile 2015.

 

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↑A proposed collection of 3D-printed coins to symbolise the range of the contemporary intellectual property system — from copyright to patents and trademarks — and demonstrate the alternatives that have emerged, such as the more permissive and sharing-friendly Creative Commons (CC).