The Future of Materiality PART II: Makers` Touch

 Posted on December 10, 2012 by Magdalena | Leave a comment | Edit

The second theme in our investigation of the Future of Materiality; MAKER’s TOUCH is a counter-trend to our current digitized lives and automated environments. It is driven by the return of craft, the makers, and the growing interest in apprenticeship.  We see a growing “how to” nostalgia, involving special interest in rich content and storytelling.

When we look at the Future of Materiality through the “Maker’s Touch” lens, we immediately connect with deep emotional values and personal experiences. Some are based on heritage; traditions and know-how while others are influenced by disruptive and innovative technologies for making.

HIGH-TECH CRAFT – The Great Convergence

Our society becomes increasingly nomadic, as we fly through our lives, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and more. Out of the uncertainty for tomorrow and the fleeting quality of our lives, old values are reborn; including the reconnecting, wanting, and needing to return to old values, traditions, craft – things that are wholesome, truthful, and permanent. We find value and comfort in authenticity and human touch, which is visible in the products and materials we are driven towards.

But the makers of today are drastically different from the craftsman of the other eras; they are high-tech wizards blending future technologies with traditional schools of making, blurring the line between traditional and new materials.  Today we experience the beginning of great blending of old and new schools.

Color 3D print of a head
Color 3D print of a head

The perception that technology will destroy the traditional production methods; the signatures of precision, quality, and craftsmanship is quickly disappearing as designers everywhere are making pace to cross the divide and use the latest technologies to launch a new age of digital craftsmanship.
A new expansion to what a craftsmen can accomplish has been born, from three dimensionally printed artifacts, materials sculpted by computer-controlled milling machines, to capturing and modifying anything in our surrounding environment with an aid of sensors and scanners.
An inspiring example of blending the craft and new technologies is an exhibition put together by the Crafts Council in UK titled “Labcraft”. The exhibition featured twenty six designers who marry traditional craftsmanship with edge-cutting digital technologies, and whose work is often a commentary on the process.

Celebrating the flaws
What makes the hand-crafted objects unique and authentic is the possibility of flaws and errors, this is believed to be lost when technology and computer-aided manufacturing takes over. The fact is that the pure essence of the human effort is still central to the design process of any of the digital craftsman, even when using technology. Many of them explore the potential of flaws and uniqueness in the digital technologies and many balance the tech-enabled tools with hand-finished touches.  For many the exploration of errors in digital processes becomes an important part of the their maker’s journey.
Hand-knitted scarf
Hand-knitted scarf

Scottish artist, designer and lecturer Geoffrey Mann can be defined by his fascination with transporting the ephemeral nature of time and motion, creating pieces that challenge the existing divides in design and craft. One of his products exhibited at the Labcraft “Shine” is a Victorian candelabra, created with a 3D scanner. During the scanning process of the metallic object, the laser beam was unable to distinguish between the surface and the reflection; creating a series of spikes as a by-product and resulting in a mesmerizing effect, which could only be created by marrying technology and design.
Zachary Eastwood-Bloom during the mentioned above Labcraft exhibit showcased a piece titled “Information Ate My Table”. A table with a large pre-meditated imperfection incorporated in the design and implemented, as a missing mass is the designer’s commentary on the fact that human input is present in every element of the design process.

Creating uniqueness through intervention
Product and furniture designer Ashuach, a co-founder of Digital Forming® and UCODO™ aims at democratizing the personalizing of everyday products via online embedded ‘open products’. She enables users to interact and co-design certain products to their preferences, within the boundaries set by the original designer. “The Table Loop Light” (position twist) is an example of a Co-Designed Object (CODO). Ashuach’s original light design was altered by a user in the UCODO™ software, creating a 3D personalized product.

Assa Ashauch Loop Light co design demo

Blurring the line between the digital and analog creation
“Woven Wood” is collaboration between product designer Gary Allson and textile designer Ismini Samanid. The duo analyzed the chosen weave structure and, via a number of software packages, converted it into a cut pattern for the digital router. By combining 3D and textile design, they managed to challenge familiar and recognizable textile structure and pattern to enable new surface textures to emerge.
Looks like the fashion industry is also exploring the nature of 3d printing and its application to garment manufacturing. A recent graduate from RMIT University in Melbourne, Amelia Agosta is an imminent Haute Tech designer whose final year collection “Engineered Distortion” intricately married craft and technology, using digital tools such as body scanners and 3D printers. Her craft in using digital tools results in a collection accented with repetitive organic geometries that wrap around the body and offer a structured but natural fashion-forward appearance.

Although similar to techniques found in fashion “La Cloche” at Le klint factory in Denmark is a great example of mergence of high-tech and hand-made. The Paper or plastic needed to manufacture their lamp shades are printed with an engraved roll to create marks for the pleatings, then the shape is hand folded, and sewed creating beautiful surfaces for light diffusion.

ART, ARTISANSHIP, CRAFTSMANSHIP – The Return of the Emotional Side of Objects

The digital age revolution is speeding up the creation of instant products where the end result, matters more than the process with which it was created. This has caused a disconnection between where actual goods come from – for young generations – and a lack of deeper meaning or emotional connection – for older generations. We see the emergence of a strong effort to re-connect with the emotional side of objects through, making, storytelling, sensoriality, and accessibility to premium experiences around material uniqueness.

When it comes to sensoriality, we see interesting explorations involving multiple senses with strong concepts like the Tactile coffee mugs by Marie Rouillon for the project Daily Haptics. Here Marie tries to reconnect people with tactility through daily objects such as coffee mugs, by exploring a range to create a different reaction in the user.
The Flagrances project for “The Scent of Design” by Marije Vogelzang is another beautiful and interesting project, which explores the experience of smell as flavor, considering the possibility of scenting the tools we use to eat.

“The Scent of Design” by Marije Vogelzang

Celebrating the Makers
The return of “makers” is bringing a new contrasting approach to digital and industrially made materials. It is not only being explored by experts with an already established skill set but also; it is being discovered by young, digital age generations which have not experienced more mechanical or artisanal processes of making. In 2011, the V&A and Crafts Council celebrated the role of making in our lives by presenting Power of Making with 100 crafted objects, ranging from a life-size crochet bear, a ceramic eye patch, a fine metal flute, to dry stone walling. The exhibition showcased works by both amateurs and leading makers from around the world to present a snapshot of making in our time.

Redefining luxury through the making
Maker’s Touch doesn’t always represent the “hand made” or the “hand crafted”. In many cases, it is a distinguishing element of affluent and discerning consumers who recognize exclusivity through knowledge. For them, having access to the finest, most authentic materials, technologies and processes of making – even with an elevated price tag – is fundamental.
With the recent economic downturn, one of the sectors of biggest polarization and growth is the luxury market, which is capitalizing on one of its key attributes: it takes time to be made. Since products in this sector are considered timeless investments, it is OK for customers to wait as long as needed in order to obtain a priceless asset that will be passed down through generations.
A great manifestation of this trend is Centurion; an exclusive luxury magazine, which has been showcasing quarterly, talented craftsmen and women from around the world for their limited edition covers. The Centurion issue titled “Making Of The Stitched Loro Piana Wool Cover” is adorned with precisely stitched Australian merino wool from luxury Italian brand Loro Piana.

Brand building through art and artisanship
Centuries ago craft development began with an apprenticeship typically lasting for seven years with the costs of training being covered by the young person’s parents. If successful, now a journeyman, the craftsmen would work for another five to ten years before demonstrating proficiency. Today we see the return of artisanship and apprenticeship which contributes to the strength of economy. Germany, a country with one of the strongest systems of trade training and apprenticeship in place, has a thriving economy and the unemployement of young people is amongst the lowest in the world.

Hot Couture and Talented Artists
Hot Couture world has always been known for its mastery in handcrafting goods, but now high-end brands specially those with a strong heritage increasingly emphasize and promote the artisanship as part of their brand image.
Louis Vuitton, for example is extending its brand into culture and experience by incorporating authentic vintage pieces in a museum-like exhibition, persuading customers of the brand value through long-lasting products.

Trunk and Bag exhibition, Louis Vuitton Island at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. This image features an original LV laundry bag from around 1900

BMW is also continuously building upon art and artisanship. Its BMW Museum located near in Munich, established in 1972 has become a major destination where visitors can see the entire manufacturing process of the 3 series. Besides showcasing its own manufacturing heritage, BMW Asia is nurturing and encouraging emerging young artists by providing a platform for them to showcase their creativity and talent to the arts community through the BMW Young Asian Artist and Arts. For the 2011 series, it brought together a group of artists and curators from Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore.

Fendi advertises its focus on craft and artisanship by collaborating with Artisans. For Milan Design Week 2011, Fendi presented the first Italian viewing of their project titled “Fatto a Mano for the Future” (Hand Made for the Future), featuring the performances of UK designer Rowan Mersh, Italian artist Nicola Guerraz, Italian sculptor Sandro del Pistoia, and Fendi artisan Federica Antonelli.
The live design performance series invited artists and designers to join a Fendicraftsman in creating sculptural objects using discarded materials from Fendi’s production process, as a conceptual illustration of the interactions that take place between designers and artists, production and tradition, and creators and materials.

Bespoke artisanship is returning to fashion outside of Hot Couture as well with a number of tailored clothing services appearing everywhere and elevating the status of such an everyday commodity like denim. Bespoke denim shops are opening all over the world, elevating jeans to a luxury item through application of craftsmanship and quality. Rogue Territory is a Los Angeles based clothing brand focused on handcrafted denim goods dedicated to preserving the trade of handcrafted products and collaborating with other skilled artisans to produce truly unique pieces.

Karl of Rogue Territory working with denim

Karl of Rogue Territory working with denim

Rogue Territory began as a small workshop in the back of American Rag’s World Denim Bar, offering bespoke denim to a limited clientele and has quickly grown to a sought-after fashion-forward brand.  Their focus lies beyond just making of a product and begins with the deep knowledge of the material; denim. The co-founder and the mind behind Rogue Territory creations Karl Thoennessen experiments with denim, putting it through extreme use conditions, variety of soaks and learning from the process.

There’s a reason why denim is loved the world over.  It’s a fabric that is highly versatile and can be extremely personal. More often than not, a person will go to their closet, pull out a pair of jeans, and start telling you why these jeans are the best jeans in the world. The jeans could be riddled with holes and held together with tape but that person will still love them. The denim we wear goes through life with us, we can recall specific moments in time by looking at its’ holes or stains or the color of the denim. This is why I love denim. Denim is a live fabric.  It has it’s own life cycle. It can be altered, torn, ripped, dyed, and beaten down, but at the end of the day it’s still denim, it is visceral. I don’t think you can say that about any other fabric” says Karl when asked about what inspired him in this material to build his entire brand around it.

Customization is Story Building
Creating a magical, interesting journey through the product creation process is at the core of engaging consumers with brands and experiences. In this case the customer is the “maker” supported by new technologies while connecting with local and global consumers. Droog Design which is known for tapping on often disruptive emerging topics; featured during the Milan Design Week of 2010 the exhibition called “Saved by Droog” followed in 2011 by the exhibition called “Design for Download”.

Droog Design, Saved by Droog Exhibition, Milan Design Week 2010
“Saved by Droog”
Both shows made a statement regarding the importance of makers in order to rescue and elevate the value of otherwise discarded objects and, the importance of being able to make and assemble your own products, even after downloading a pre-designed blue print from the Internet.
Droog Design, Design for Download Exhibition, Milan Design Week 2010


The celebration of the craftsmanship and making process continues as we find comfort in being told about the creation story of the goods we invest in. This encourages brands to stage the manufacturing process as a performance, bringing it to the center of cities, or to our screens and allowing for the public to learn and interact with the process. This movement is driving the more truthful form factors, and finishes, where the stitching, the welding, the binding becomes a feature, rather then a hidden necessity. How will the objects of the future communicate the process of their creation?

Slowing the Journey & Storefront Manufacturing
More and more brands are bringing their manufacturing story from the backstage to the front proudly showcasing their process and telling their story. The oldest baseball bat company located in Louisville, KY, which manufacturers locally has established a factory & museum in the middle of downtown Louisville with an idea of turning a factory into a destination. The public is able to see, explore, and learn how their product is being produced. When the baseball season is on, thousands and thousands of people come through the downtown area and learn about the craftsmanship process.

At the London Design Festival in the fall of 2010, workshops with artisan workers from factories and design studios were placed on show in premium exhibition spaces encouraging visitors to stop, chat and learn more, turning the in-store workshops into a  new way of storytelling. Established & Sons LIMITED presented “Design Against the Clock”, a series of performances in which London design figures, including artist Richard Woods and sculptor Gavin Turk, worked onsite to create works reflective of their practice. The finished pieces were exhibited on-site.
At the exhibition held at London’s design week 2012, food designer Jacopo Sarzi invited guests to build their own dinning wear from flat mental stencils. During three days of DIY exhibition thirty sets were made.

The Levi’s Film Workshop was opened on location during the summer of 2011 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in downtown Los Angeles. In the workshop, filmmakers had access to screenings, equipment rentals, and state of the art editing equipment through the workshop.

Journey of Products Through Materials & Processes
Websites showcasing stories of how products are made are becoming very popular not only for consumers but also for brands interested in showcasing their quality.
Product by process is an online compilation of processes, materials, and interesting stories about products.  It tries to go beyond the polished products and objects and takes a look at how they are manufactured and recycled. One interesting example featured at Product by process is the video for the Nokia N9, which highlights the process of “how is made” and attempts to give consumers a hint of the Finnish origins of the product.

Even the arena of food design is exploring the idea of bringing food-making to the store as a way of engaging consumers re-connecting them with the roots of original ingredients and ancient process of food making. Sticky Brand, a candy manufacturer with stores in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong offers artisanal candy made and packaged locally in the store, creating an entertaining and unique experience and a personal connection between consumer and products.

Our market place is also becoming infiltrated with stories form individuals who found themselves through the process of making. For some the making is still a part-time adventure but for others it is a personal revolution. A writer turned knife maker Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn is an inspiring example of potential for a hobby to transform into a skill and eventually to mature into an artisanship and a way of life.


Moving forward as our lives are becoming increasingly filled and ruled by technology, we see growing tendencies to timeless artifacts through tangible, touchable, and sensorial experiences and interactions. We believe the community of makers and craftsman worldwide will grow and become even more connected. The makers will continue collaborating, sharing stories and preserving the traditional crafts while discovering new technologies and tools and marrying them with the old world skills and methods. The artisans of tomorrow will blend ingredients for new materials like painters of today mix pigments to create new colors in their palette.
We look forward to this great convergence and on going experimentation.

By Magdalena Paluch and Liliana Becerra.

Also read the THE FUTURE OF MATERIALITY: Illusionary High-Tech,
Part I

During our latest SEEDS event titled “The Future of Materiality” we identified three main areas in which we believe, materials are evolving.
I. Illusionary High Tech
II. Makers Touch
III. Alter Nature
This article will be a three-part series. Each of them will expand on one of these three areas, exploring the future of materials through different examples as they relate to shifting social values such as the growing emotion and experience-driven economy.

Magdalena PaluchAbout Magdalena Paluch
Magdalena is a Trends and Innovation Strategist at Toyota. She brings a strategic design perspective to industrial design, prioritizing a user-centric design approach, materials research, and industrial ecology. > More about Magdalena Paluch

Liliana BecerraAbout Liliana Becerra
Liliana Becerra is an independent design consultant, editor, curator, educator and entrepreneur, based in Los Angeles, California.
> More about Liliana Becerra

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s