The Craft in Design


I spoke to many senior designers in Jan-Feb 2022 to learn more about their career motivations. One particular point kept being repeated by some of the individual contributors and it got me intrigued; They said that they wanted to ‘focus on their craft’. So I decided to spend some time to understand the relationship between craft and design and answer some of these questions: Why does the craft in design matter? What does it mean to invest in craft? #designthinking #designeducation #businessofdesign #designcareers



1. Design ≠ craft. Craft served the needs of communities well before we began to require more things, much quickly. Wars, industrialisation & consumerism made us seek new ways to make. Since then, designers show up at the head of the division of labor, guiding teams of craftspeople. Guiding is done through drawings and representations specifying what is to be made and how.


Investing in craft implies valorising material practices.

Investing in design valorises practices that hypothesise and guide the making.


2. Designers find the act of making creatively rewarding and enjoyable. Most designers may recall starting their career by 'crafting' or 'making' things, drawings or sketches. They want to continue to focus on craft rather than having to manage people's careers or delivery times. They feel that they're not in a position to lead others when their own design skills are not up to the mark. They are often pushed to take up managerial roles because:

  1. there's nobody else to do so (especially in startups and mid-sized orgs)

  2. that's the only role available as they move up their career ladder

One of the designers I spoke to, mentioned that she proactively asked the org to relinquish her managerial duties so that she could specialise in design. I find that brave because not a lot of people might have the courage to speak up. Also, maybe the organisation was more open to ideas.


3. The essence of design is forethought. Over time, designers (must) learn to develop ideas beyond objects. They must account for more variables while designing and evaluate their ideas without needing full-scale production in real-world environments. The act of visioning before having to build – so that what gets produced is more reliable, not only because the blueprint guides efficient building of identical objects, but because what gets produced at scale is virtually tested before production – needs prized skills!


However, the industry doesn't reward you for honing your skills. Look around for executive IC roles and there aren't any (LMK if you find one😛). Designers moving up their career inadvertently take up managerial roles since that's the only growth path available to them.


Honestly, how many design managers trained to become people managers? How well are they able to understand the shape of their team and the sentiments of their juniors? Are any conscious efforts taken to address arising issues?


Orgs may argue that high-ranking officers must contribute towards organisational development but aren't IC designers leading abstract, systemic and futures-thinking initiatives already doing a lot? Why add pressure and distractions of managing people and/or administrative/BD tasks on them?


4. What does it mean to have a 'Craft' mindset:

  • To evaluate a sketched-out design or prototype is perhaps part of 'craft'.

  • To make judgments about how 'designs' will be realised requires a craftperson’s material sensibilities.

  • To represent ideas through images requires visual techniques already found in craft.


5. Influencing technological commoditisation: Any sense of craft in the production of ‘minimum viable products' and agile 'build-measure-learn' methods is slowly disappearing. The processising of craft is turning it into neo-craft. Good or bad? we're yet to ascertain.


6. What is neo-craft?

Design moves faster than craft by using CAD, studio-based materials and visual thinking to test ideas. Live testing is faster and more prevelant than before.


By overcoming the 'slow and small' nature of craft to accelerate creative leaps by adopting new constellations of devices, people and tools (think co-working spaces and maker-fairs and remote collab platforms), designers appear to be approaching problems in a neo-craftmaship manner.


Conclusion

Craft will co-evolve with design through the introduction of newer actions and articulations to both the practices. The tactile sensibilities of craft connected to the strategic imaginaries of design will continue to transform products and businesses.


Identify with any of the points above? Write to ruchin@ruch.in or reach out on twitter or instagram :)