Politics and Practice of Designing it Yourself

The most recent issue of Ambidextrous is themed “Getting It On.” As part of a issue largely themed around desire, sexuality, taboo, intimacy, and kick starting things — Ambidextrous chooses intentionally ambiguous themes — I wrote about what’s at stake in DIY design. The article is written in conversation with Julia Lupton, co-author of Design it Yourself: Kids, design-your-life blogger, and Shakespearian expert extraordinaire.

We try to explore some of the boundaries that get reiterated and defended distinguishing “real” design from what people do in everyday practice. I’ve heard some designer colleagues half-joke that the role of a designer is to save people from themselves — a need evidenced by flashy MySpace pages that are the modernist designer’s equivalent of eye cancer. One interaction designer expresses some of these anxieties in a post about participatory design techniques. Prominent design critic Steven Heller does the same in an interview with Ellen Lupton. At stake are the professionalism of designers, the individual as a innovative author, and the specialness of creativity. After all, if everyone is creative or capital-d-designers aren’t the only ones crafting elegant, clever solutions to everyday needs, what then is the role of the Designer? If designs are recognized as emerging through participatory practices and reappropriation in context by mere “users” (“artful integrations” and “articulation work” as Lucy Suchman might call them), then who should really deserves credit for those big design awards?

Often cast as the opposite of design, I suspect, are crafting, decoration, tinkering, and collective wandering. Design by committee is held up as the mediocre opposite of Jobsian master vision (though historian David Turnbull counters this idea when he argues that Europe’s great cathedrals had no single master planner or vision). This debate has gendered dimensions as well. Crafting, engineering’s opposite figure, is often gendered feminine: take Make: magazine’s sister magazine Craft: as evidence.

Julia and I explore these issues in greater depth in “The Practice and Politics of Designing it Yourself” ยป

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3 Responses
  1. sky says:

    I get a little niggle every time I visit Make: and Craft: …it always seems odd to me the way gendered ideas of ‘crafting’ and ‘making’ are reproduced on the sites in such a seemingly unthinking way. Glad someone is writing about this!

  2. zelda says:

    Craft is also very often cast as the opposite of art. Interestingly, those making an argument that art split from techne sometime in the last few centuries sometimes treat both craft and engineering as other trajectories leading away from the same split. So in a sense craft and engineering are kin in their banishment from “fine art” or “high art”.

    One of the issues here is certainly that the term “craft” itself carries several not wholly reconcilable meanings (as, of course, does “art”).

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