There is an interesting kind of tension between the disciplines of science, design and craftsmanship, especially where consumer products are the subject. In this manifesto, I take up a position on how being a designer relates to being a craftsman or scientist, and why neither one is the other.I have nothing but admiration for great craftsmanship. I can truly enjoy well-made furniture or tableware, built to last, made of durable materials that age gracefully. An application that works intuitively and seamless. Under craftsmanship, I also put engineering, programming. In the grand scheme of things, it is about making an actual product work, it focuses directly on the end-product.
Being a designer is something else in my opinion. To ‘design’ means to plan, to think ahead, to create a vision. A designer bases this vision on part intuition, part knowledge of the world, part personal preference. A designer should be inspired and inspiring. A craftsman should also be those same things, but applied to their specific end result, geared towards what their hands can make. A designer can create a ‘concept’ instead of a final product, something through which people can see, feel and experience a proposal, without it being the final tangible thing. An example from my own work is a set of 7 spoons, each with a different function to enjoy your food more.
Just as a craftsman can make a chair for no special reason other than that he or a client wants to, a designer can create a concept for with as sole justification: inspiration. And of course designers inspire us all the time, bringing ideas into this world that give us a glimpse of what our lives can look like. A question in a designer’s mind about how we can utilize the awareness of our periphery, can result in a concept for an ambient time awareness system, working as a prototype but not designed as a finished product. Or a design for the use of a new light technology, aesthetically pleasing and providing new ways of thinking about this technology, but not yet feasible as a working product.
Especially in these last two examples, you can see how a designer can be inspired by technological inventions and scientific research. These concepts are reactions to new information, outcomes of an intuitive, associative process in the mind of the designer. Can a designer work on this research himself and still be amazed and inspired enough by its outcomes to create something beautiful and original? I believe that someone who is very involved in the development of a technology or theory, does not have the freshness and clarity of view of an outsider. Or is that just me?
Science and research can create new knowledge, and the purpose of the scientific community is to share this knowledge with the world, where it can subsequently be picked up by designers, strategists and companies, to create new ideas and products. While I believe that designing research methods, hypotheses and experiments requires a wealth of creativity, I think that creativity is of a different kind than that of a designer.
There should be space for designers to interpret and translate the knowledge that scientists generate, into novel concepts for the future. The person who did the research, is not necessarily the best person to take that next step. I believe it is a bad idea to want to pin down the design process, and try to pre-mold it so that the researcher can become a designer. Not everyone can be, just as not everyone is an Olympic athlete. Of course we can learn a lot from studying the mechanics of becoming one. It is obvious that a lot of training goes into it, talent, dedication, time. We can improve the training methods, make discoveries about the right tools to use. We can even distill some useful lessons for the rest of us, who just want to become a little bit more effective. But it is presumptuous to think that providing a ‘to-do list’ will make anyone who wants to, an instant athlete. Similarly, designing a successful concept takes more than just the building blocks.
Under the guise of inspiration, too often a designer will use statements about the world that are based on their own personal experiences or preconceived notions of reality. It would help the quality of design tremendously if useful information about how users experience different aspects of their environment and systems they use, would be readily available, and used more diligently by designers. I believe here lies a challenge for scientists and designers together. Scientists should try to imagine and anticipate how people could be inspired by the knowledge they provide, but leave the outcome open. Prepare for inspiration and serendipity, then let someone else pick it up and create something unexpected. Designers should adopt a more curious attitude, sometimes forget what they think they know, and go out in search of knowledge. Creative minds can connect the most unlikely concepts to come up with truly world-changing ideas. It is a designer’s duty to stay off the straight and narrow.
The three areas of expertise: science, design and craftsmanship, are naturally largely overlapping. Each has its merits and importance. We cannot achieve anything without all three working closely together. But is it realistic to expect to find all three in one person? I have met some amazing and inspiring people, but not ever one that combined excellence in all three areas. It would be like finding the god of this holy trinity. Perhaps that person exists, perhaps not. Should anyone aspire to become it?
I believe, to excel in any of these three areas, one should be able to focus and concentrate. That is not to say never switch roles, on the contrary. I think it is highly beneficial and refreshing to work from a different perspective once in a while. But just as with multi-tasking, which as it turns out is not that efficient due to a long unproductive time after every switch, I think working in different modalities at the same time is not without consequences. One sometimes needs to pull against something or someone else to get the strongest results. Discussion, friction, difficult problems, are all beneficial to creating more original outcomes. There is no chance of a fair game if you are fighting yourself. We need to work with others to create a whole that is more than its parts.