Working towards a cooperative future. Together we craft beautiful software, facilitate change, and create art to find new paths.
Common is a small workers co-operative, with members and contributors from Lutruwita, Southern Highland (AU), and Hong Kong. We dedicate our practice to the development of tools and frameworks of Commoning. Our studio is currently open for commercial work.
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What we do
Technologies cannot and should not be the sole solution to social problems. We are not a technology group; rather, we see ourselves as a social practice.
We all became friends by directly working with one another at some point in our journeys. We are not all in the same stage of life, nor do we share the same exact flavour of dreams. We became aware over time the things we have in common ⎯ small is beautiful; life is often richer offline; a good day can be summarised as a nice long walk, part by ourselves, part with others by our side.
This is how we live and work these days. What we do day-to-day isn’t all that unique. It’s the in-betweenness of us all, the intra-actions , that makes our work special to those around us at the end.
Craft beautiful software
We workshop with you to develop the identity for your new ideas. We craft and launch your beautiful viable products that are well researched and thoughtfully made, by serving as your founding product team. We create functional design systems to enable you and your future teams. We guide you through the process, prepare you for what’s to come, and help you find the right teams to take your idea even further.
Facilitate the change
We advise and work alongside your in-house teams on new narrative building, re-design strategy, technical revamp and re-platform. We help you launch an identity reboot, implement a design system overhaul, facilitate staff augmentation, and supercharge your infrastructure to reflect and adapt to changing requirements and needs.
Art as path-finder
We support artists whose practices are concerned with the natural, social and technological commons, by creating digital tools and softwares for, or as part of, their artworks.
We set aside some hours each week to read, research and tinker on various subjects. Some of us have long established art and craft practices - functional modelling, music production, 3D printing and embroidering are a few among them. We are open to collaborations that bring some of these skills to use to make radical change possible.
As a group we share the immense concern for the impending climate catastrophe, and are educating ourselves in preparing our communities for these apocalyptic events. If you have project ideas that help solve or mitigate some of these issues, we would especially like to hear about it.
How we do it
We’re a small and distributed group consists of more introverts than extraverts. Given the nature of our work, practicing transparency and thoughtfulness in our communication is essential. We extend the same practice to everyone we work with. We’re in it for the long game.
Adaptable & cooperative
We all have slightly different tools in our toolkits and preferred modes of collaboration. There’s art in staff augmentation and we try to find the balancing points amongst individual’s interest area, personality and the type of work in demand. We sometimes bring on extra helping hands from our networks to projects with tight schedules and need for specific skill sets, and help to streamline the process for all parties involved.
With you, we’ll set clear expectations before a project starts. A good project brief can help kickstart this process and for us to estimate with transparency. Having been on both sides of the table, we understand the need to make plans for budget and time, and that changes could happen nonetheless. We’ll accommodate and treat all kinds of projects with the same care and respect. We strive for long term relationships as we believe that working relationships get better with age.
1. Coined by Karen Barad, intra-action is a term used to replace ‘interaction,’ which necessitates pre-established bodies that then participate in action with each other. It understands agency as not an inherent property of an individual or human to be exercised, but as a dynamism of forces in which all designated ‘things’ are constantly exchanging and diffracting, influencing and working inseparably. Barad, Karen. (2007)
The rock around which all the water flows.
Our practice is based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. We put these into practice through the ICA Cooperative Principles.
7 Co-op Principles
Technology is not neutral, neither are we. As a co-operative, we don’t subscribe to a set of commanding “values” that each of us must adhere to at all time. Companies do not and should not have values; people do. We prefer to explore the common thread ⎯ the shared ethos.
All that you touch. You Change.
All that you Change. Changes you.
The only lasting truth is Change.
God is Change.
⎯ Octavia E. Butler
We came together as individuals and wrote down a list of philosophies that resonate with us personally. This is a snap shot of that time, which will be updated over time as we evolve and change. These are our guides, not something we practice perfectly - we fail often. By sharing them publicly, we hope these can be discussed, debated upon, and that our friends can help keep us honest and real.
Making a Yin Utopia
Utopias are notoriously boring – because nothing happens in an ideal state – and coercive – because one must all go along with the plan. A Yin utopia is a threatened one, a utopia in transition. It asks rather than answers. Obscure, weak, yielding, passive, participatory, circular, cyclical, peaceful, nurturant, retreating, contracting, and cold. Most particularly, it is a revolution forever unfinished.
⎯ Ursula K le. Guin, 1977
Progress is a dirty word. It is directional, and it has a place to be, a place to arrive at. The idea that our future can be a deterministic one with a linear trajectory if only we follow someone’s map, is an inherently Euclidean concept, important for a 10th grader, yet outdated and problematic for most.
Common is first and foremost a practice. Navigating the world of conquistadors  as a small community has made us particularly aware of the importance of our daily rituals and our labours. Our patterns of living can become beacons on the path, helping us find our way as path-finders. Such practice, being so integral to our lives, encompasses a chaotic collection of ideas and identities forever shifting and changing. It is unpredictable and always ready to change.
We aren’t so sure about anyone’s “checklist for Utopia”; knowing that the strange attractors of a chaotic system do not decide a systems future. Therefore, we prefer reading, telling and retelling stories, not drawing maps. Although drawing is pretty neat.
It’s the in invisible gaps between the frames that things encounter one another and vibrate.
⎯ James Bridle, 2022
A community is not the sum total of all its individual, relations are just as well part of the network. We don’t believe in the cult of individual; to us, majestic beings tokenized as representational shorthands are only real as long as they are relational. Conversation with friends is our go-to approach for synthesis; study groups and working together directly are our preferred ways to build relationships.
Public resources make up the building blocks of a healthy and living society. A world without sufficient public resources is a society of injustice and suffering. A dying world. Today, our shared resources can no longer be defined simply as natural assets or material goods – our technological infrastructures and network facilities make up a significant part of our lived experience; not only that, they are increasingly more active actors in the networks, whose biases can be hard to detect yet detrimental.
It’s not just high tech though. Technology is the active human interface with the material world . Poetry or plumbing. To any one of us individually, any “low” or “primitive” technology would in fact be high tech invention.
We believe in a technological commons and the political power of open source. On a philosophical level, we believe infrastructural software is public good. We use MIT license for our projects, however, in cases where we see the potential for exploitation, we will use stricter license (GNU) to enforce openness and protect the fruits of labours of all workers.
The mainstream tech world today still fetishes professionalism, an environmental force merging the individual into patterns of the total environment. Capitalist realism, plastic trees.
We believe in amateurism. Amateurs are those who choose to imagine, to play, to sustain continual learning for the joy of it. The amateur knows their own limits and seeks to understand, and also explain, without recourse to the authority of their “expertise”. The amateur is has no title to defend or hide behind. They don’t tend to classify or specialise, nor accept uncritically any labels or ground rules.
We firmly believe in the necessity of collective action and structural reform. We stand in solidarity with activists, grassroots initiatives, and all fights against colonialism, fascism, normative violence, and racial supremacy in all of its forms. We are committed to subverting oppressive gender norms and put in question the binary. It’s a personal responsibility to actively unlearn biased and colonial thinking .
1. International Cooperative Alliance, Cooperative identity, values & principles
2. “Conquest is not finding, and it is not making. Conquistadors always running into new worlds, and quickly running out of them, leaving the rest of us running out of everything.” Ursula K le. Guin, 1977
3. A Rant About Technology, Ursula K le. Guin, 2004.
Senior Software Engineer / Visual Artist / non-practicing Librarian
... has always struggled with words. This probably has something to do with why, for ten years, Benjamin lived as a visual artist whose work mostly dealt with words, or more generally language and meaning construction. He was successful in this, you know, winning awards, getting grants, traveling around the world for exhibitions and residencies, and all that jazz. However, the underlying financialisation and elitism of the "art worlds" chaffed against his personal ethics. Most of his artwork involved some programming. From the websites, game development to NLP, lighting installations and embedded electronics. So after disillusionment with arts he transitioned to software engineering to feed himself, working for companies such as Canva, Epic Games and Reaktor. He still struggles with words.
Full stack developer from the southern highlands of NSW. After stints at Google, Canva and some now defunct Australian startups Callan’s found a niche in freelance eCommerce development for small to mid sized businesses where their skills can have a large impact. Callan is a keen consumer of spaghetti code - if there’s a legacy system that needs to be altered, jumping in and figuring out how it ticks gives them a real buzz. They also dabble in functional modelling and 3d printing.
Cheuk Yin Chan
Designer. UX guy. Gamer. Leads design at AlphaMobile. Been in the software industry for over 10 years. He enjoys pushing the limits and boundaries in his work, experimenting and learning to build fun and functional things. Originally from Hong Kong, he now lives in Beijing.
We feel lucky for having people who support, inspire and challenge us through reading, walking and conversations – in no particular order – Gemma Copeland, How Melnyczuk, Lisa & Cam, and all of you at Rererereading group – Feminist Culture House – Luke Bacon – Frontyard Projects – thank you for your company. You make it a little less lonely to walk on this beautiful yet choked up planet called Earth.