when design & craft meet


Fernando & Humberto Campana Circus Rug 2010


Design is a young discipline. A process engineered at the beginning of the industrial age that first and foremost developed function and derived beauty from it. Up until today, function was the trademark of industrial and serial design, reluctantly giving in to the emotional and the ephemeral. But man started to tire of function alone and evolved to decor, surface effects and inlay techniques, blending industry, art and design; a movement which is making a revival at this current time. Then came a moment of great innovation, aerodynamic design and streamlined form. What followed was a time of space-age shapes and science-fiction volumes: our fascination with form for form’s sake was born.


Function became remote and voice-controlled and morphed into virtuality, giving function an ungraspable quality. Thus arrived matter and the development of our fingertips as important consumer tools. Material development became a major focus of the art and design worlds, the concept of second skin was born, forecasting a future of genetic engineering and human cloning. The more virtual life became the more tactile we wished to become. Matter called for colour to make up its mind and express its mood, ultimately making colour the overruling reason to select an outstanding work of design.


When design had acquired a sense of function, decor, shape, matter and colour, the insatiable and by now global market, requested more. It needed a code, or a name, or a logo, or all of those, so it invented and perfected the brand: a passport to international shopping pleasure. With this last step, the world could sit back, relax and contemplate a century of learning, accumulating in a completed and perfected design process…


However, the demand for design had been explosive over the last decade, stretching our imaginations thin, and had engendered an insatiable appetite for new experiences which created a world full of stuff; a globe drowning in design, a situation ready to explode. Today, we experience a need for reflection and we feel a need to rethink the (non)sense of design.


The globalisation of the world as one market has brought about shopping boredom and uniformity with the alternative boutiques gradually disappearing in favour of chain stores, chain couture, chain food – and chain coffee houses. The idea that not only people in Paris, London and New York should live and consume the same, yet that the masses of Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai will also do so seems stifling and impossible. Global marketing will eventually come to a standstill, making way for outsider brands and Sunday artist creations. The local will feed back to the global and will animate world brands to become passionately interactive and reactive. Introducing local colour and craft along the way.


To answer this growing global resistance to constant renewal and limitless expansion, humanity and integrity are requested for the years to come. It is time to empower goods with a new dimension; their own character, an invisible energy locked into the design process.


I believe that we will be able to make the object, concept, or service come alive to be our partner, pet or friend, and to relate to us on a direct and day-to-day level. Only when design will be empowered with emotion will we be able to create a new generation of things that will promote and sell themselves; they will have acquired an aura able to seduce even the most hardened consumers on their own terms. Only then will design have acquired soul.


Craft holds this promise: the turn of this century has witnessed a return to the arts and crafts movement in a step-by-step repetition of the last turning of the centuries. Haunted by similar fears and interested by a similar vision, designers and artists have once more taken on the handmade and the hand-finished with absolute fervour.

The growing influence of an all-encompassing digital fantasy world has triggered an enormous quest for the manual and the tactile, with our fingers deciding through feeling long before our eyes start judging form and volume, and with manually-powered production coming back to the fore. The realisation that we have to stop destroying our planet has made young designers adamant to produce ecologically and locally, thus creating less polluting proposals, reviving natural dyes and returning to timber, fur, hide, textile, ceramic and glass; original arts and crafts materials. In many cases the works come in limited numbers or on commission, and therefore minimise the damage done to the planet.


The crafted and handmade cottage industries currently flourishing in many countries are employing regionally and create a small yet reliable local economy. A movement we see blooming, bringing production back to our doorstep once again.


Collaborations between designers and craftspeople have opened up new dialogues across borders, often bridging language boundaries with the simplicity of visuals, colours and materials; contemporary designers such as Tord Boontje, Stephen Burks, Fernando & Humberto Campana, Natalie Chanin, Forma Fantasma, Front and Hella Jongerius (amongst many others) are helping to keep artisan techniques alive by designing small-run products that gain a lot of international attention. Taking advantage of the internet and supported by design-savvy distributors such as Afroart, Aid to Artisans, Artecnica, Editions in Craft, Heartwear, Mokeybiz and ZenZulu, developing communities have successfully been taught to be more self-sufficient and independent, maintaining their identities while telling their stories to the world market.


New computer technologies are also contributing to the craft revival with laser cutting, digital printing and robotics, recreating a space for fantasy and embellishment. With the promise of industrial technologies capable of making one-of-a-kind piece-by-piece productions, the reign of the artisan will be supreme since prototyping will have to be both unique and by hand.

Last but not least, this period provides a moment of reflection concerning our planet and its history of slavery and exploitation, and therefore the humanitarian aspect of production is becoming a key question of our times. Can we still accept the enslaving of young workers around the world, women and children included? How is it possible that we can produce a shirt cheaper than a croissant? Somebody must be suffering in this chain of making, selling, reselling and retailing; buying cheap merchandise will become a guilt-ridden activity and therefore will gradually disappear. The world is now focused on the history and identity of merchandise, labelling products as “designed by” as well as “made by”.


With a consumer ready to embrace the rare, the unravelled and the irregular in this quest for soul in a product, the arts and crafts movement is back at the forefront of fashion and design. The ritualistic qualities inherent to the making of the craft object or the symbolic quality in the concept of a human service will gradually become more important; in a quest for experience, consumers will want to embrace a spiritual dimension and select merchandise to appease this inner need. Some craft items will become new design collectibles within a matter of decades, and already we see the prices of some textiles, objects and artworks escalating to greater and never-before imagined heights…


Therefore the products of the future will be unique as well as universal. Using regional roots, local colour and universal references related to earth, animals, gardening and home. Living an unplugged yet wired lifestyle, considering rural romantic sources of inspiration, craft and design will merge to inspire a new more self-conscious and mature consumer to be. A consumer that becomes the curator of his or her own life. L.E.


On sunday march 18th, Lidewij Edelkoort will be in Dubai for a public seminar on “What Design can do for the Future?”