Craft Oriented Design

duepiani by Tirali Design

While browsing through design blogs a few days ago, I chanced upon a design project by Israeli designer Rami Tareef titled ‘Craft Oriented Design’. The project title and the products which form part of it got me thinking about the attitude towards crafts which exists amongst the designers of today. Or let’s say Indian product designers because I am closer to and familiar with the fraternity.
Many designers are of the opinion that craft and design are two completely distinct fields, one of which is innovative while the other is based on existing traditional knowledge passed over from generations. It is commonplace to label something as ‘craft’ object and something else as a ‘design’ object and even argue why some products are craft and not a design. With the possible exception of designing with bamboo as a material, product designers rarely create designs which utilise handicraft techniques for their manufacture. There also appears to be a disconnect at the governance level. While product designers receive support from the Ministry of Commerce & Industry (which has established design institutes in India), handicrafts remain the prerogative of the Ministry of Textiles (It seems handicrafts are conveniently clubbed with hand-loom for all governance purposes). But what I want to stress upon through this article is the common point of both the fields; both are very much connected with the activity of ‘creation’.
I had a short stint working for the National Centre for Design and Product Development, New Delhi, India. One of my responsibilities over there as a designer was to impart design knowledge to craftspeople. Small classroom session were organised either at a separate room in the office itself, or sometimes we had to travel to where our students were – namely small cities like Jammu, Lucknow, Saharanpur etc. Although technically I was the teacher in the classroom, my students (whose ages ranged from 20 to 60) taught me a lot of things. Most importantly, I was familiarised with the crafts of my country and the urgent need to make them relevant to today.
Firstly, crafts are part of our heritage. They are our identity. Crafts have connections with religion, mythology, folklore and traditions. They are an important instrument to the preservation of our cultural integrity. We owe it to posterity to preserve it. Secondly, the skill of the craftsperson cannot be replaced by machines. When a craftsperson creates, he or she leaves a personal imprint on their creation (voluntarily or involuntarily), much like an artist does. The non-uniformity characteristic of crafts is much more appealing than the mundane alikeness of machine-made products. In fact designers all over the world are working on inventing machines which create unexpected, un-designed products. Craftspeople have among them an enormous body of varied hand-skills too valuable to be lost due to neglect. Lastly, crafts have long been a means of employment for many people in India. As crafts progressively lose their value, these people lose employment or move to some other vocation. Encouraging crafts could entrepreneurship among the masses which would be a positive for the economy.
Now let’s finally get to the part where designers save the day and make the world a better place. What can designers do for crafts? The answer is simple – ‘Craft oriented design’. Design products which are meant to be handmade. Designers can educate themselves about the crafts of their country or specific to their region. They can work with craftspeople to experiment and explore craft techniques. Most designers pride themselves on the ability to work within creative constrains. Well, innovating while adhering to craft techniques should be an interesting challenge too. It’s time to stop the craft – design stand-off and work together. Time and again commercially successful designers have employed crafts to create great products. It’s about time someone capitalised on the craft potential of India too.
– cw