DESIGN & MAKING A project by
A series of essays exploring the importance of craft and design today
Introduction by Birgitte Jahn
Design & Making short film
A Design Heritage by Lesley Jackson
The Rise of Craftsmanship by Grant Gibson
Thinking Through Making by Daniel Charny
Producing Design by Paul de Zwart
Communicating Design by Max Fraser
Exhibiting Design by William Knight
Selling Design by Magnus Englund
Collecting Design by Libby Sellers
he field of craft and design finds itself in a remarkable period right now. In current years, there has been a growing international focus on the values inherent in the hand-made, the everyday relations and the story-telling qualities that craft represents. There is a strong demand for products imbued with relevant and authentic stories that hold special meaning for consumers and offer the individual a sense of identity. At the same time, there is a widespread focus on innovation in society and on the potential of design to meet the challenges that society is currently facing.This occurs along with an interest in developing design capable of solving specific everyday problems. Naturally, these are essential areas to promote and develop, particularly in light of the global challenges of today. Craft and the new challenges in the field of design are often discussed as if they occupied two different spheres. And indeed, in some respects these two professional practices are very different. But itâ€™s far more interesting to examine how the two areas supplement each other, to explore the valuable resources inherent in craft, and to embrace another view of design and making. This is especially true in a Danish context, where craft has historically been such an integrated part of industrial production. Here, the two areas have always been closely linked, and they make up a key component of the
DNA and the strength of Danish design. “Making is the most powerful way we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. […] making – and, in particular, thinking through making – holds social, economical and cultural values that are particularly suited to our times and to shaping the future,” Daniel Charny argues in his essay in this publication. I think that the qualities of craft have a crucial impact on the conception and development of new products today. Craftspeople represent the powerful creative driving force that forms the basis for any product. Danish Crafts finds it important to enhance awareness of the importance of the field and to create the right conditions for strengthening the unique qualities inherent in craft. In cooperation with the London-based design writer, publisher and curator Max Fraser we have therefore invited a number of professionals from the British design industry to discuss the role and importance of craft in society today. Designers, retailers, promoters and commentators, each with in-depth insight into the areas they write about. Danish Crafts would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the discussion of the importance of craft and design in today’s society with very engaged and personal opinions. Birgitte Jahn CEO Danish Crafts
In this short film, a number of British designers, retailers, promoters and commentators discuss the role and importance of design and craft today.
A DESIGN HERITAGE
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” said William Morris, the idealistic British designer, social reformer and founding father of the Arts and Crafts movement. It was the thrill of decorating his own home that prompted Morris to become a designer and set up his own practice, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company (later Morris & Co), in 1861. Morris was a polymath; his projects ran the gamut of applied arts: textiles, wallpaper, furniture, stained glass, tiles. He was, undoubtedly, a creative genius. Yet his interests went beyond aesthetics; he wanted to improve society by reforming the way domestic products were made. Lesley Jackson is a writer, curator and design historian
Morris’s great bugbear was the industrial revolution. Factorybased, mechanised mass-production transformed British manufacturing after the late-18th century, yet in his view it had a disastrous effect on design standards and spawned many social evils. Dividing a manufacturing process into segregated tasks and replacing hand-craftsmanship with mechanics increased production, but it turned artisans into slaves to machines—hence the dubious term “operative”. In Morris’s view, this was inhuman, and the failings of the system were all too evident in the deficiencies of the final products. Morris was proud to call himself an artist-craftsman. Enthusiastically hands-on, he dipped his arms in vats of dye or busied them on hand looms. By fostering a return to hand-craftsmanship, he sought to save the soul of British production. His ideas spread internationally in the decades following his death in 1896. Why am I telling you about William Morris? Well, if I apply his dictum to the objects in my own home—furnished largely with Scandinavian modern design by Hans Wegner, Holmegaard and Le Klint—it seems clear that the country
“In the late-1940s and early-1950s, Denmark, Sweden and Finland emerged as design superpowers. Each had its own strengths and distinctive national traits but together their unique selling point was the way they absorbed craft values, materials and aesthetics in their design.”
that upheld Morris’s ideals most faithfully in the last century was Denmark, certainly during the postwar period. In fact, if Morris had lived in the 1950s, I think he would have felt very much at home in Denmark. As a design historian, I’ve spent a lot of time scrutinising the years between 1945 and 1970, in my view one of the most dynamic periods in the history of design. What makes it so compelling, partly, is the release of pent-up creative energy after the war. But there was also a dramatic shift in the balance of power, with Old Europe in the guise of Germany and France supplanted by new European powers like Italy, Scandinavia and the New World of the United States. In the late-1940s and early-1950s, Denmark, Sweden and Finland emerged as design superpowers. Each had its own strengths and distinctive national traits but together their unique selling point was the way they absorbed craft values, materials and aesthetics in their design. One reason seems to be because Scandinavia, unlike Britain and Germany, was only partially industrialised when its creative surge began, so “living” craft techniques (as opposed to revived “forgotten” skills) were effortlessly absorbed into production. Writing in 1960, the commentator Arne Karlsen characterised Danish design as “multifarious and yet homogenous… full of contrasts and yet characterised by common features.” To Karlsen, the essential character of the Danish approach was quality, “the specific gravity of the things, the harmony, the balance between the various elements: form (utility), material, means of production, price”. One distinctive feature of postwar Scandinavian design, and Danish design in particular, is its understated aesthetic. “The Danes are not given to dramatic effects, [yet] nor is our work in any way drab,” said Karlsen. “Danish design is informal but not without a certain grandeur.” He also used the word “sober” to characterise the Danish approach. This sobriety reflects an important aspect of the Danish national character at that time, and suggests an acceptance of the social function of design, closely allied to prevailing ideas about social welfare and democracy. A recognition, among Danish designers and manufacturers, of the need to act responsibly for the greater good was a central tenet of Danish postwar design philosophy: “To us,” Karlsen said, “quality is not inextricably bound up with luxury.”
Karlsen’s commentary is taken from a book called Contemporary Danish Design, published by the Danish Society of Arts and Crafts and Industrial Design in 1960 to promote Danish design abroad. The link between this organisation and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain is evident in its name, although it is significant that, in Denmark, “arts and crafts” and industrial design were regarded as complementary aspects of a unified whole. This point is reiterated by Karlsen: “In our country the artist directs his energy equally to the creation of ordinary useful wares and unique objects. It is often the same artists who leave their mark in both.” Contemporary Danish Design is a modest publication illustrated in black and white, yet it provides a testament to the achievements of Danish designers in the 15 years following the Second World War. It is an impressive catalogue, with names like Hans Wegner, Børge Mogensen, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen and Poul Kjaerholm in furniture; Kaare Klint and Poul Henningsen in lighting; Henning Koppel and Jens Quistgaard in metalwork; Axel Salto in ceramics; and Per Lütken in glass. As in Britain during the late-19th century, postwar Denmark witnessed a flowering of creativity across the applied arts. The worldwide triumph of Danish furniture in the 1950s and 1960s is particularly illuminating. With its emphasis on high-quality design and fine craftsmanship, tempered by down-to-earth functionalism, the Danish furniture industry was exemplary. Hans Wegner, who collaborated with several companies, fused new ideas with traditional elements in a thoroughly appealing way. Similar ideas bore fruit, not only for one or two isolated firms but across the industry. Combining technical efficiency with artistic flair, the Danes developed a highly successful export industry while satisfying the needs of consumers at home. By the early-1950s their furniture was not only penetrating foreign markets but influencing their competitors abroad. British firms such as Ercol and G-Plan, for example, were indebted to Danish design. Two other leading Danish manufacturers, Holmegaard and Royal Copenhagen, illustrate the enviable craft principles underlying Danish postwar industrial design. The mouth-blown and hand-shaped glass vessels developed
by Per Lütken for Holmegaard in the 1950s, with their seductive organic forms and subtle colours, display an enviable creative freedom moderated by restraint. Produced in large enough quantities to make them affordable, they were imported to Britain by the wholesalers Bowmans and sold through retailers like Heal’s. Holmegaard exerted a significant influence on the postwar designs of Whitefriars Glass, a leading Arts and Crafts firm that had produced glassware for William Morris. The Danish firm also played role model to several new companies set up in the UK during the 1960s, including Caithness Glass, King’s Lynn Glass and Dartington, all of which adopted similar aesthetics and production models. For its part, Royal Copenhagen fostered studio-based craft experimentation alongside its main production ranges. From 1933 onwards the virtuoso ceramicist Axel Salto—a maverick genius but something of a non-conformist— worked for the company producing a series of extraordinary sculptural vessels with treacly glazes, operating effectively as a studio potter within the factory system. Interestingly, Kate Malone, one of the UK’s most exciting contemporary potters, cites Axel Salto as an inspiration. His weird, wonderful forms and adventurous glazes show clear parallels with Malone’s pots, which recall seed pods and fruit. So although Salto died 50 years ago, his creative legacy lives on. Malone’s work is just one example of how Danish design from the mid-20th century can stimulate contemporary craft in a wholly positive way. I’m not advocating pastiche or—as is so popular today in the years since the birth of Droog— ironic sampling of historical imagery; in my opinion it’s all become somewhat formulaic of late. But I believe there’s a lot to be said for today’s designers and makers engaging with the golden days of Danish design. Cross fertilisation by time travel, you might call it. The Danes have rich, postwar resources to draw on. There may also be lessons to be learnt by today’s promotional organisations from the activities of their predecessors at the Danish Society of Arts and Crafts and Industrial Design, and also from wholesale companies, such as Danasco and Finmar, which successfully imported Scandinavian design into Britain during the 1950s. Both of those firms were, unsurprisingly, spearheaded by entrepreneurial Danes.
â€œAfter over a decade of infa with screen-based desi a dramatic retur
â€”Daniel Charny, designer, curator and senior tutor at
atuation ign, there has been rn to experimentation and thinking by making.â€?
t Royal College of Art
THE RISE OF CRAFTSMANSHIP
Never has industrial design been so far removed from manufacturing. Objects are often created on a computer in a fashionable part of a European city before being shipped out to a factory in China or India. This fracture has collided with our increasing concern about ecology, our current desire to start curbing our culture of consumption and our postNaomi Klein suspicion of big brands. Grant Gibson is a freelance journalist and editor of Crafts magazine
All of which has persuaded a certain type of (generally wealthy and middle class) consumer to think about provenance. The most obvious area this has manifested itself is in food. High-profile campaigns by TV chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have resulted in shoppers taking more care over what they buy and inspired a raft of specialty lines from the major supermarkets. You know a bandwagon is rolling when the advertising agencies jump aboard. In recent years Levis launched its Craftworkers campaign, which makes associations between the old denim brand and a group of up-and-coming young creatives (some of whom could only very loosely be described as craftsmen). Camper, the Spanish shoemaker, started using the tagline Extraordinary Crafts in its campaigns. This renewed interest in provenance has played a key role in motivating designers to join schemes like 2010’s Bodging Milano. Under the aegis of furniture-maker Gudrun Leitz, the programme invited a group of the UK’s top designers to spend six days in Herefordshire, where they learned the traditional wood-turning technique “bodging”,
“Indeed the rise of hand-making at what remains the world’s most important design fair [Salone del Mobile, Milan] has been noticeable for some time.”
most commonly associated with Windsor chairs. The results of their efforts went on display at the Milan Furniture Fair. This was furniture-making at its most elemental. No electricity was used creating the chairs; instead, the designers learned how to cleave a log with an axe and mallet, use a bow saw, operate a pole lathe and wield a range of draw knives for shaping timber. It proved to be cathartic for many of the designers. As one participating designer Amos Marchant told me: “There’s a rich history of furniture-making which, partly, we’ve turned our backs on.” Using classic companies Ercol and Thonet as examples, he added: “In contemporary design there is obviously a desire to move away from that kind of aesthetic and get into more novel materials and processes. But then you look at what Thonet was doing 150 years ago and a lot of that furniture is still about. It’s a sustainable method of making. And from a making point of view you have to try and embrace some of that methodology.” Bodging Milano has been part of a wider movement. Last year’s Salone del Mobile was teeming with turnedwood furnishings. Indeed the rise of hand-making at what remains the world’s most important design fair has been noticeable for some time. In 2009, one of the most talkedabout installations was Craft Punk, which asked a group of young designers—Raw-Edges and Glithero among them— to create new products from the manufacturer’s offcuts in front of a live audience. In 2010 the National Taiwan Craft Research Institute launched the Yii project with Dutch designer Gijs Bakker, which teamed some of the nation’s top young designers with traditional craftsmen to make new objects. Meanwhile Wallpaper* magazine has joined forces with Brioni to exhibit handmade products. For the past four years the Mindcraft installation at Danish Crafts has featured work at the intersection of craft and design by the likes of Bente Skjøttgaard, Louise Hindsgavl and Mathias Bengtsson. The Bodging project has also spawned industrially manufactured furniture. The Sunray chair, designed by William Warren, was picked up by UK’s Case Furniture and is being manufactured in northern China—the only way to meet an affordable price point. While Case’s case suggests the likely future for British manufacturing is in high end, niche markets (it’s unlikely we’ll be able to compete on volume in
the foreseeable future), it also shows how craft can be used to influence industrial design. Another reason designers are taking an interest in handmaking is necessity. After leaving college they simply can’t find anyone willing to manufacture their ideas, so they’re making products themselves or finding craftsmen who can do the job. RCA grad Simon Hasan, for instance, works with boiled leather because the material allows him to control the process—something that wouldn’t be possible were he working in aluminium, for example. The strapline on his website, “collectiveness & craft in industrial design”, seems apposite. Indeed at this year’s RCA graduate show it was fascinating to see so many students finding new ways of working with industrial materials. Erik de Laurens made a small milking stool out of plastic derived from milk. He believes local dairies could start manufacturing the material, turning a substance associated with petro-chemical giants into a cottage industry. While some designers have rediscovered their roots, a handful has investigated the technological possibilities— using 3D printers and laser-cutters as tools, for instance. Jewellers Nora Fok and Ted Noten have put out collections using rapid prototyping, as has ceramicist Michael Eden. Silversmith Drummond Masterton has experimented with CNC milling. Gareth Neal is following in the footsteps of his mentor, Fred Baier, combining a craft sensibility and technique with contemporary technology. The sector has received an intellectual shot in the arm from a handful of books. The Hare with the Amber Eyes by potter Edmund de Waal, the story of a collection of netsuke sculptures his family collected, was one of the
surprise literary hits of last year. And The Craftsman by sociologist Richard Sennett illustrates how craft thinking could be applied to the contemporary workplace. The Case for Working with Your Hands: or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good by professor-turnedmotorcycle mechanic Matthew Crawford has, arguably, had the most impact, acting as a set text for members of Britain’s Coalition government. Want proof? Well, in a recent budget Chancellor George Osbourne said: “We want the words ‘made in Britain’, ‘created in Britain’, ‘designed in Britain’, ‘invented in Britain’ to drive our nation forward. A Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers.” And in a lecture delivered at the Royal Society of Arts, Education Minister John Hayes called for the creation of a new Arts and Crafts movement and promised the number of apprentices will rise by 75,000 in the course of this Parliament. “Ours will be—must be—the age of the craftsman,” he concluded. There’s little point pretending craft enjoys the same level of glamour as fine art and design yet the boundaries between disciplines are mutating beyond recognition. Shows like the Crafts Council’s Collect, held at London’s Saatchi Gallery, drift into fine art, while major design exhibitions like the Milan Furniture Fair are full of the handmade. This is a moment when craftspeople can assert themselves and their values, safe in the knowledge that they’ll receive an audience.
â€œPeople have really started to care about how things a with what mater and whe â€”Faye Toogood, designer
are made, rials ether they are made locally.â€?
THINKING THROUGH MAKING
Daniel Charny is a designer, senior tutor at Royal College of Art and curator of Power of Making exhibition
“Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. What and how we make defines who we are and communicates who we want to be. For many people, making is critical to survival. For others, it is a chosen vocation: a way of thinking, inventing and innovating. And for some it is simply a delight to be able to shape a material and say ‘I made that’. The power of making is that it fulfills each of these human needs and desires. Those whose craft and ingenuity reach the very highest levels can create amazing things. But making is something almost everyone can do. The knowledge of how to make—both everyday objects and highly skilled creations—is one of humanity’s most precious resources.” This is my introduction to Power of Making, an exhibition commissioned in 2010 by the V&A museum in London and the UK’s Crafts Council. Power of Making is on route to becoming the V&A’s most popular free exhibition in recorded time. In its first three months it drew in more than 250,000 people, updating their understanding of craft and inspiring them with the works on show. It’s interesting to consider this overwhelming reaction: could it be attributed solely to the power of the exhibited works, or does the exhibition reflect a resurging interest in the subject matter? And why now? Would it have had the same response, say, 15 years ago? The exhibition sets out to present the breadth of craft’s presence in modern life, highlighting skills and equipment from traditional masonry to modern machinery. It ultimately positions craft as a resource through which we solve problems and express ourselves and asks the question: is it under real threat? Well, if it is, what, if anything, are we are going to do about it? Does it really matter? Does anyone care? If the incredible public response is any indication, the answer is yes. We could speculate that the dramatic changes in manufacturing in recent times have driven people to
“…making – and, in particular, thinking through making – holds social, economical and cultural values that are particularly suited to our times and to shaping our future.”
reconsider and even embrace making as one response to help deal with change and shape the future. So now the question becomes: does the current interest in craft signal a requiem or a renaissance? Most makers would answer that making is a continuum and will always be a part of people’s lives. Certainly, well made or finely crafted objects will always draw a particular audience. Yet these do not have the power to boost or renew awareness in any significant way. In fact few people would prefer making or fixing to buying new. Meanwhile skills are deteriorating rapidly; people are losing their grip on knowledge and, more critically, the memory of the ability. It’s hard to counter the evidence of all the low-grade “stuff” that is continually and increasingly being produced and consumed and ends up complicating our lives; the acceptance of disposable and short-life products is well established. Though we mustn’t discount the immeasurable value that industrial-scale production brings in the form of medicine, food and other products that elevate the quality of life of millions, the cycle of low-quality products breeds lower standards. Acceptance of poor materials, bad engineering, crude craft and thoughtless design is part of the package. Some would say it’s inconceivable that our physical and intellectual distance from creation and knowhow could ever reverse itself, that making and makers could ever again be significant enough in our lives to shape our wider future. Perhaps no exhibit, no matter how inspiring or creative, can “fix” the ultimate impact of the industrial revolution. In this light, Power of Making may be merely nostalgic entertainment, an entertaining requiem. It may be naive to go so far as to suggest that this set of circumstances could be flipped, or that the volume balance between mass production and self-production will ever be comparable. But one could make the case that making— and, in particular, thinking through making—holds social, economical and cultural values that are particularly suited to our times and to shaping our future. The more people I talk to the clearer it becomes that, as far as technology is concerned, we are at a significant turning point. Where technology was seen as a barrier, it now accelerates access to information and communities. Where technology was
associated with mass production and corporate brands it is now emerging as a tool for individuality and independence. One of the most significant shifts is in the way that younger users are consulting with one another, learning from people rather than reference books; they are listening and being heard and forming relationships. This ties in with the changes I’ve noticed in the 15 years since I started teaching postgraduate design at the Royal College of Art. In our department, consistently through the years, students have hailed from about 25 countries. Yet I’ve seen two distinct changes in their interests and orientation. The first is in their ambition, which has changed course from yearning to be an independent “star” to a more collaborative “social” drive. The second is the relationship to digital and mechanical technology. After over a decade of infatuation with screen-based design, there has been a dramatic return to experimentation and thinking by making. Another clear change is that many of those students experimenting with traditional making techniques have significantly fewer skills—though that doesn’t stop them, as it might have in the past. Do these shifts reflect wider societal interests? Is making a more critical and accessible means for innovation, cultural production and social progress? Craft, at the forefront of these activities, is often not seen as such. Yet today’s craftspeople are rewriting the rules. They embrace new applications—mutations that happen at the junction of craft, technology and human ingenuity— that make the artform relevant again. This junction is where one starts to glimpse a future where making and craft are a hotbed for the imaginative use of skills. As writer and critic Bruce Sterling once put it: “The future of making is in hacking the post-industrial milieu.”
Approaches of the maker by Daniel Charny
Types of making Makers use various skills and techniques to shape their materials. They fall into three types: Adding techniques connect, layer or combine materials. They include welding, soldering, veneering, weaving, embroidery and painting. Subtracting techniques remove materials. They include cutting, carving, engraving, drilling and grinding. Transforming techniques alter materials. They include throwing clay, blowing glass, forging metal and baking. The transformed states may be temporary or permanent. Irreversible transformations occur in processes like vacuum forming, stereolithography and casting.
Learning a skill Most people can make something, at least at an amateur level. But there are many layers of expertise beyond that. It may take years to attain complete mastery. Too many people never get a chance to experience a high level of making. At every stage in the learning process, a makerâ€™s relationship to materials and tools changes dramatically. What may at first have been frustrating becomes pleasurable. Makers start to think through their skills almost unconsciously. Once they learn how to use and care for a tool, makers might start modifying it, or even invent a new tool to replace it. In all these ways, learning a skill is a way of opening up future possibilities and challenges.
In the zone Advanced skills may take a long time to learn, but the feeling of being “in the zone” can be experienced by anyone—from a four year old to a master artisan. When you’re absorbed in making, unplanned things happen. The experience is intuitive, like playing sport, and it can be meditative, like making music. This sensation of effortless flow is a reward in its own right, but it’s also a situation of intense learning. Makers who are immersed in what they’re doing build on existing skills and discover new ones. Innovations in making happen, more often than not, when they are least expected.
Making new knowledge All knowledge about making was once new; someone, some time, had to formulate it. But there’s a big difference between established, “traditional” forms of making and those that are innovative. Both are crucially important and both can be expressive, but they serve different purposes. Traditional ways of making have been passed down from generation to generation, often through apprenticeships, and learned through repetition. Innovative making is less rehearsed and may be less reliable—but it is more exploratory, with the potential to open up dramatic, new directions. This can involve redirecting existing skills or creating new ones. All knowledge, even the most traditional, can be new for any individual, but some knowledge is new to us all.
Thinking by making Many people think craft is a matter of executing a preconceived idea, something that already exists in the mind or on paper. Yet making is also an active way of thinking and can be carried out with no particular goal in mind. In fact, it is here that innovation is likely to occur. Sometimes things go wrong in making. Unskilled makers, hitting the limits of their ability, might just stop. Experts, though, will find a way through the problem, constantly unfolding new possibilities within the process.
In today’s high-tech world the relevance and importance of craft isn’t what it was in the preindustrial age, or even in the early-20th century. But the skills essential to making a product by hand should be preserved and consequently supported and encouraged wherever possible. This is not, I would argue, because craft is necessarily superior to machine-made design. It’s because doing so nurtures a function that’s at the root of how we as human beings have evolved, and indeed at the root of how we evolved into our mechanised, technological and now digital age. For that reason, we can’t afford to lose our skills. They may be innate but they can also be easily lost. There is a second, very marketable reason for preserving and encouraging craft skills, and it stems directly from a desire, even need to connect with raw materials and handmade products in modern societies where the synthetic and machine-made is proliferating. There are many unmistakable national and local trends toward reconnecting with all things natural and sustainable, but globally the pendulum is yet to swing toward craft. Craft in today’s marketplace cannot survive on nostalgia or intellectual veneration alone, however. It needs to harness timeless
skills and apply them to good, relevant design and efficient, creative methods of production. Then it must reach the consumer with a relevant sales and marketing strategy. Alas, far too often there is a missing link in this chain that renders the viability of craftbased industries in industrialised societies increasingly tenuous. Consider the cost of manufacturing, or indeed the large volumes necessary to manufacture crafts costeffectively; the pressure on competitive retail pricing; the limited choice of suppliers; the common belief (in high-wage markets) that unless it’s high-end and high-margin it isn’t worth doing; and the absence of widespread appreciation for crafts and craft skills. Unless all these elements work in a mutually supportive way and manage to cross-fertilise, the chances of sustained success and growth remain slim. The picture is a complex one and very definitely two-way: demand matters as much as supply. Our consumerist societies have long fostered a culture of consumption where an item’s value is skewed toward instant appeal, affordability, fashionability and desirability rather than longevity, quality, localism and timelessness. This applies to all industries. Why buy one well-made garment when you can buy five incredibly cheap ones
“There are many unmistakable national and local trends toward reconnecting with all things natural and sustainable, but Globally the pendulum is yet to swing toward craft.”
—even though you might wear them only once or twice before discarding them? Why buy a costly but timeless piece of furniture when you can buy a cheap, imported one in a different colour and style every season, then throw it in a landfill? To a large extent the question is one of scale. If niche is enough, then crafts will probably keep finding outlets where traditional skills continue to survive and perhaps even thrive. If, on the other hand, we begin to demand a greater contribution to the manufacturing and retail trade from craft and traditional knowhow, the system will present new arrivals with real challenges to address. When we launched Another Country, all these factors came into play. While we had a good, experienced team behind us, we did not strictly come from the design or furniture industry; we had no industry connections, no network of suppliers, no retailers and no manufacturers. So we looked at our business with a fresh set of eyes. We asked ourselves: “Why do it at all? Don’t we have enough things in the world? Is this a useful endeavour? How do we make our products? And where? How shall we sell them? What is the brand about? What are our values? Who is our market? How
do we sell to them? Where do we source our materials? How do we package? What are the defining values that should inform all of the above, like recyclability and sustainability?” And on and on. The business is one year old now. This process was a very important exercise to have gone through because it established a strong brand identity from the outset. We also realised quickly that by choosing—at least at launch—to manufacture in the UK, price ourselves competitively and embrace craft skills and strong sustainability values, the internet based direct-to-customer sale model was the only one that worked commercially for us. It proved that a niche craft brand can come to the fore and succeed. But at the same time we’ve recognised the limitations of this model and the difficulty of growing with a sole-UK manufacturing base. Will we overcome this growth challenge by altering our business model? Or will we retain it along with our values by seeking a more sustainable manufacturing base and partners elsewhere? Those questions are up for debate, but the mission of retaining and supporting craft production will endure. Paul de Zwart is co-founder of Wallpaper* magazine and founder of Another Country, a producer of contemporary craft furniture
When I reflect on the advancements in design and craft over the past 20 years, I see the fields have undoubtedly benefited from a recent surge in public interest. This was facilitated, in part, by increased media coverage, reflected in a rise in the number of trade and consumer design magazines, newspaper supplements and TV programmes that cover design and new product launches. Such media outlets have played a role in shaping aspirations and educating people about the virtues of well-made, well-designed objects. Meanwhile, design shops, exhibitions and festivals have flourished to feed our newfound appetite for design. But the same media that brought about this change has had to deal, lately, with an influx of competing voices. Digital, the new kid on the block, has in less than a decade toppled yesterday’s definition of “news”. Mobile communications and the immediacy of the Internet have placed tremendous pressure on traditional media, which is left grappling for strategies to adapt. Instant content is now the public’s expectation. And to top it all off, the public doesn’t expect to have to pay for it. The proliferation of blogs and social media has given us the ability to communicate specialised stories to a
target audience. While traditional media takes into account the wider market when deciding what is worthy of being published or broadcast, now individual niches can pursue a market online. The logistical limitations on distribution have been superseded by sophisticated online search facilities that allow us to quickly access what we’re looking for around the globe, at a click. No longer do editors and critics dictate content; instead, anyone with a passion for a subject can express his or her mind. On one hand, it’s liberating. On the other, we’re continuously bombarded with opinions and the headacheinducing noise of information overload. It’s fair to say that the avenues of communication available online present designers and makers with distinct opportunities: freedom from expensive PR firms, marketing agencies and the whims of editors, for instance. As grandiose as it may sound, a website is a portal to the world; and for designers and brands, it’s a powerful digital platform for news, ideas and, of course, products. And there is hardly a single design website out there that doesn’t engage in e-commerce. After all, the power to interact directly with your customer, offer bespoke options, ship anywhere in the world and earn full margins is irresistible.
“Design magazines, newspaper supplements and TV programmes that cover design […] have played a role in shaping aspirations and educating people about the virtues of well-made, well-designed objects.”
It all sounds so easy, yet being discovered within the world’s largest database is a distinct challenge. Associating with other imaginative products and strong ideas has always offered the endorsement producers strive for. And so, as with traditional media, approval from a respected editorial source comes into play. Popular blogs and news websites are the gateway to more “cyber eyes” that could potentially click through to a burgeoning website. Thereafter, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook help to boost a following, allowing designers to impart their own opinions, values and stories to an audience that has already signed on to hear it. Of course, sustaining such a following presents a new hurdle. It is unfair to constantly bombard followers and friends with non-stop news feeds and product updates. And the fallout can be rather damaging. Information fatigue is a very real problem in the saturated mediascape. Moreover, consumers have become accustomed to judging objects from a printed image, detached from the nuances of quality, texture and experience. It’s triggered many designers to sell their products with behind-the-scenes stories and videos that convince the cynical
public theirs is not just another anonymous product. Among consumers, this cycle has created an appetite for provenance. For craftsmen, this added layer of communication helps to validate their skills and infuse their work with personality. While the excitement around new media endures and fresh technological innovations are unveiled on a daily basis, it’s interesting to observe our continued yearning for face-to-face connections. We don’t want to consume life through a screen; we want to stimulate the senses with which we were born. We want to enjoy personal relationships and experience real interaction with our surroundings. Exhibitions, conferences, events and festivals respond to this and remind us why we’re working in this field: for the palpable pleasures that print, TV and the Internet could never offer.
Max Fraser is a design writer, publisher and curator
The challenge to deliver an exceptional exhibition in London can be irresistible. Working in Europe’s creative capital, sharing a platform with many of the world’s best designers, latest products and freshest ideas means the standard is set very high. The pressure this brings maintains and reinforces quality, an essential component of a good design festival and something a city’s creative reputation lives or dies by. But why exhibit? Production and planning are stressful, space is scarce and more often than not budgets are tight. The answer depends on a key component that shines through any good exhibition: the realisation of a strong rationale or, simply said, a good idea. London thrives on ideas – they’re a key commodity. Exhibiting allows designers to show new ideas, develop narratives and expose the process behind designs. The motivation to exhibit varies enormously. Designers want to experiment, test a project or present something as part of a development phase. Countries and cities seek to shift views, challenge perceptions and demonstrate modern thinking and skills. Retailers and brands want to launch products, say something about themselves, secure sales and create desirability. Museums and galleries want to explore or
reinforce theories and values around design. Nearly all of them want press coverage and an audience. Exhibition audiences are easier to attract through festivals, but content is king. Today’s most successful method for building excitement is by illustrating a design journey – showing how ideas evolve into products and concepts audiences want to buy. Explaining or, better still, demonstrating a process behind the making of something is highly valued. This craft-inspired aspect of exhibiting has helped exhibition organisers hone their storytelling skills. It also reflects an increasing confidence in the language of contemporary design. The London Design Festival was devised as an open platform for exhibitors. By working together, this network is able to create opportunities and experiences for a diverse audience while also generating business. The rise of the design exhibition as “experience” has helped fuel a level of engagement with design previously unseen in the UK. In this country, our reputation for creativity has been hard won. Exhibitions on design have played a key role in this, communicating directly with audiences at home and overseas. Since the mid-1990s successive governments have supported this
“Exhibiting new ideas triggers progress and stimulates still newer ideas. This atmosphere is ideal for debating issues, solving problems and driving innovation.”
activity, nationally and regionally. Around the world, authorities now recognise the importance of harnessing creativity, both to enhance reputations and as a driver for economic growth. Creativity is now regarded as a core strategic strength in the UK, one that attracts a skilled workforce, world-class design businesses and international trade. The design sector has a turnover of more than £5 billion and employs nearly 61,000 people. In London the creative industries generate one in three new jobs and the creative sector is the second biggest contributor to the city’s GDP – second only to the financial sector. In less than a decade since the first London Design Festival was staged, design festivals have proliferated worldwide. In fact there are nearly 100 festivals staged each year around the world and most are supported by governments in one way or another. This support is best when it’s offered with a light touch; governmentstaged design exhibitions can be staid, or can even strangle the creativity they set out to promote. The success of festivals in promoting a city or country’s design credentials is now well established. The best festivals tend
to reflect their location, or the conditions in which they’re set. The best ideas reflect a hunger for authenticity. And shows that highlight the exciting possibilities of the future provide a powerful antidote to the gloom of financial downturns. London’s traditional ability to blend culture and commerce means a collaborative approach prospers, setting the stage for a wide variety of interests to be met and, in turn, creating a true “festival”. By specifically setting out to include the widest range of design disciplines (up to 20 are included in each London Design Festival), we avoid having to settle for simply a “furniture exhibition” or a “graphics show”; the approach is to blend a range of design skills. A festival is, by definition, a celebration. Exhibiting new ideas triggers progress and stimulates still newer ideas. This atmosphere is ideal for debating issues, solving problems and driving innovation. Prosperous economies rely on innovation, and festivals succeed at moving governments to acknowledge the great potential of design.
William Knight is the Deputy Director of London Design Festival
It’s a strange world in retail right now. The pressure to provide cheap products is increasing as news headlines fill people with fear of the future. Rising prices on raw materials far outstrip salary growth. The changing face of mainstream retail has left streets in cities from London to Madrid to Copenhagen with the same clothing stores, mobile-phone outlets and sports brands, reducing the pleasure we get from travelling. Fewer and fewer products are made in our part of the world. Yet for clever independent retailers there are opportunities to explore—if they are prepared to work harder on sourcing, presentation and branding. Tourists visiting other continents expect unique products; Chinese visitors to Europe do not travel across the globe to shop for items made back home, and the same goes for Europeans visiting Japan. Increasingly, consumers are demanding products made locally, both for environmental and nostalgic reasons. Luckily for smaller manufacturers and retailers, the big players don’t seem to be able to capture this market; they require big volumes and streamlined products to keep the wheels turning and institutional shareholders happy. The result is a polarization between global budget retailing and local niche
retailing, with the middle market shrinking. Prior to 2008, this circumstance would have been described as a rise in luxury consumption, but that term has become not only passé but vulgar. Instead it’s being replaced with a sentiment once articulated by German designer Dieter Rams: “Buy less but better.” It’s no longer about buying brands heavily promoted in expensive ad campaigns, but about spending whatever money is still available on quality goods with a story to tell, items that make you happy. The world is still filled with small workshops, factories and makers. The challenge for them is to find designers and retailers who value their manufacturing skills. Yet this is easier said than done. These sorts of small makers and manufacturers are often old, conservative and unable to see the opportunities in front of them. Designers, meanwhile, prefer to seek out manufacturers who are equipped to take over the whole process, from product development to the shop shelf. And retailers want all the packaging and marketing done before they place their order. Everyone is looking for the easiest solution. The answer for some retailers is to team the right designer with the right manufacturer in order to create a limited run of exclusive products—though it often
“Every product requires a human hand at some stage.Communicating this manufacturing process often gets a tremendous response from customers.”
requires more effort than attending the big trade fairs and filling in order forms. The division of design in the West and manufacturing in the East brings with it new challenges and risks. In the past, some of the best designs were close collaborations between the designer and the factory worker. But when this communication is cut off—or at best carried out by a sourcing office—the design suffers. Besides which, consumers have become too far removed from the manufacturing process. Just as people rarely think of the farmer who bred the cow or harvested the wheat, the craftsman who turned the bowl or made the chair has become invisible. Yet every product requires a human hand at some stage. Communicating this manufacturing process often gets a tremendous response from customers. Even products made overseas would benefit from this; if you knew the face of the person in Thailand or India who made your clothes, it would connect you to their product. A product’s virtue is not in where it’s made but under what circumstances. Thus visiting a glassworks in Italy should not be a better experience than visiting a ceramics factory in Asia, just different. Everything is locally made from someone’s perspective.
All these considerations come together when a retailer is trying to source a new product. But their single biggest challenge is to communicate the value of the product to the customer, something that is not always easy in a busy world. Fashion brands are very good at explaining why a handbag can cost as much as a sofa, yet sofa brands aren’t very good at explaining why a sofa can cost as much as a handbag. Some retailers still seem to think it’s enough to put up some shelves, fill them with products and wait for the customers to walk in. But, thanks to the popularity of online shopping, those days are long gone. It’s not enough for a store to be a glorified warehouse nowadays; it needs to inspire. Retail should be a joy for all the senses.
Magnus Englund is the co-owner of Skandium, a contemporary design store in London
Back in 2005, Christie’s New York made history when it sold a table by Italian architect and designer Carlo Mollino for $3.6 million over the $200,000 asking price. The instant the hammer came down, that 1949 glass and oak table became the most expensive piece of 20th-century furniture ever to sell at auction. Once perceived as the poor relation to art, collectible design has become headline news and a contentious topic within the industry. What I’ve found so perplexing in all the hype about collecting design is the emphasis placed on the novelty of it. This is largely due to the unprecedented prices achieved by pieces like the Mollino table. But it’s also down to the emergence of contemporary design galleries from Shanghai to São Paolo; the new breed of design fairs catering to collectors; and the prestigious auction houses that have expanded their once marginal decorative arts departments. Yet the desire to collect objects that are unique, rare or simply pleasing to the eye has been around for millennia. Suetonius reported that the Roman emperor Augustus embellished his houses “not only with statues and pictures but also with objects which were curious by reason of their age and rarity”—only to see them pillaged by Visigoths, Ostrogoths and
Normans eager to acquire their cachet. In the 15th century, Renaissance nobility plundered classical Rome for inspiration, and furnished their palaces with cultural tokens. Habsburg emperors kept cabinets of curiosities called Kunstkammers (art chambers) and Wunderkammers (wonder rooms). British aristocrats kept souvenirs from the Grand Tours of the 18th century. Just consider the grand institutional collections established in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, the maharajahs of the early 1900s or the European decorators of the 1920s and 1930s. Galleries have sold designed objects as unique works or in limited edition for just as many decades. Even the modernists, arbiters of machine manufacturing and standardisation, created limited editions and works that fell beyond the capabilities of early manufacturing. Architect and designer Eileen Gray sold prototypes from her Parisian gallery in the 1920s. In fact, Gray’s work wasn’t mass-produced until just before her death in 1976, when London retailer Zeev Aram took an interest in her early designs. Similarly Charles and Ray Eames, exemplars of democratic design, repeatedly created pieces relying on handcraftsmanship, whether they were too expensive or too organic for industrial production.
“Once perceived as the poor relation to art, collectible design has become headline news and a contentious topic within the industry.”
Midcentury design by French modernists like Jean Royère, Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand has dominated the market due to its quality and availability. Original furniture by equally important midcentury designers is more rare because so little of it was made. But Prouvé and Perriand produced volumes for schools and hospitals, just the sort of stuff that tends to stick around. Yet even this rich vein is being depleted, and interest is slowly shifting to contemporary practitioners, both established and emerging. What’s fascinating about the market for contemporary design is that the galleries and auction houses aren’t necessarily driving it, despite conventional wisdom. Its popularity stems largely from a confluence of longtime collectors and progressively sophisticated consumers shunning ubiquitous or commonplace design. Increasingly, these collectors are acquiring design with an agenda that goes beyond function, hence the correlation with art. This is symptomatic of the radical changes coming about within the industry. The seeds of rebellion were first sown in the late-1970s, when postmodernist designers—including Italy’s Alessandro
Mendini and Ettore Sottsass—introduced craftsmanship into their work, partly to signify their rejection of modernist conventions. They encouraged a market for unique collectible design that often defied definitions of design. These early insurgents were followed by British-based designer makers like Ron Arad and Tom Dixon, who, lacking support from the industry, began to realise one-off pieces. Meanwhile a band of Dutch designers, including Hella Jongerius, Tejo Remy and Jurgen Bey, was introducing wry humor and narrative to their designs for Amsterdam-based Droog. Today’s younger generation of designers is heir to this radicalism and rebellion. Many new names—whether mindful of adding to the superfluous glut or seeking to work free from industrial constraints—aspire to design for the collectible market. Doing so is an opportunity for expression, not to mention a critical commentary on the industry and the political and social issues they feel are pertinent to their lives. It’s for this reason that I proudly stand behind collectible design as a patron, editor and gallerist.
Libby Sellers is the founder of Gallery Libby Sellers, a contemporary design gallery in London
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e going to be scarce, ial is going to go up, ke the labour cost part of the total calculation. en up opportunities to produce locally.â€?
Max Fraser Birgitte Jahn, Kristian Kastoft, Anders Kongskov Olsen, Nina Tolstrup, Ellen Himelfarb
Richard Ardagh Studio
Daniel Charny, Magnus Englund, Grant Gibson, Lesley Jackson, Birgitte Jahn, William Knight, Libby Sellers, Paul de Zwart
Design Miami/ and Fendi (p.21 & 24); Bodging Milano (page 22); Wallpaper* Handmade (p.24); ÂŠ Victoria & Albert Museum, London (p.31,32 & 34,35); Joakim BlockstrĂśm (p.46)
Kongens Nytorv 1E, 1 DK-1050 Copenhagen K www.danishcrafts.org
A series of essays exploring the importance of craft and design today