On design and crafts

On the first week of classes at my recently started MDes Social Design programme at the Design Academy at Eindhoven, besides design, the most mentioned word has been crafts. Sometimes as something that supports designers in a positive way, and in other cases as a burnt cliché that misleads designers on trying to achieve authenticity. Last wednesday the Social Design group had the first meeting with Rianne Makkink, of Studio Makkink & Bey, and one of the mentors of the programme; after a very interesting talk with her about our excursion of the trimester to Riga, capital of Latvia, and a preparation for this to the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen, she gave us a small assignment: think of your personal interest on design and crafts. She gave an example of this relation, speaking about a project Gijs Bakker led with Taiwanese designers and craftsman, called Yii, in which the designers worked hand-by-hand with the craftsman in order to represent the ‘street-life’ of Taiwan.

My first thought when getting the assignment was that I didn’t what to get to much into the topic and, in fact, thought of it as really burnt theme. Thursday I decided to work at home, but at the beginning of the afternoon then decided to pass by school some time; great choice I made, for I found the power of conversation in design (for me, in the real action, off course -I know it’s nothing new).  Spontaneously a discussion with other 4 classmates started around the topic, and I stated my point: the problem (for me) of the relation of design and crafts is that is a one-way relationship, in which only design is benefited and crafts don’t get much from design (even though designers always think they are ‘helping’ craftsmen with their knowledge -pfff). I thought of the relation as some kind of patronizing relationship, or of the type of a colony with its colonizer, but didn’t see a real dialogue between people and disciplines. After an hour or so of very interesting conversation, and I questioning what does design (or designers) really contribute to crafts, I received the most beautiful answer: conversation… discussion. It suddenly became a bit clear to me: it was all about conversation between different actors (stakeholders, if you like); but for this conversation to be really interesting, the designer should have clear that he cannot patronize the craftsman, nor any other stakeholder, but he may even learn more than he can teach.

But there was another interesting insight on the conversation about design and crafts: the usual conversations between designers and craftsmen where  in the craftsmen own environment, reason why, maybe, there is a given one-way relationship. What would happen if we took a series of craftsmen and got them to work in conversation with designers in the context of the designer? Now, some may ask, which is the context of the designer? Well, as well as we cannot generalize on the context of the craftsmen (it could be a wood workshop, a house, the street itself), it’s the same with the designer (it could be a studio, an office space, a room). This may be an interesting experiment to try, always bearing in mind the position of the designer, who mustn’t approach with judgements about the people to whom he will communicate with, but understand that it will always be a horizontal relationship.

Special thanks to the people involved in the *conversation: Eugenie De Lariviere, Lisbel Gavara, Lucile Sciallano and Guillaume Neu-Rinaudo.