Craftsmanship by
dictionary definition means the quality of design and work shown in something
made by hand of a person skilled in particular craft. However, people use this word to describe different thing than it used
to do hundred years or even decades ago. It seems like the rules for something
to be considered hand-made is getting more and more forgiving. Using pillar
drill instead of hand drill seemed like violation of true craftsmanship,
although today we can make same comparison between using CNC drill and pillar
drill. Because of this big change in technology something like pillar drill
seems very primitive and limited tool in today’s world.

It is important to discuss
this topic especially today because it seems that there is declining interest
in crafts which may lead to extinction of some traditional skills. In some cases,
is inevitable because of how the world is changing due to advancement in
technology. However, craft or specifically making things using your hand is essential
part of developing as a human being and according to both Richard Sennett and Howard
Risatti is a key of fulfilling life. Furthermore, it’s directly relevant in
product design world.

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This essay is going to
investigate meaning of craftsmanship, relationships between crafts and
technology and how they changed over time. Also, important figures, historical
events, movement that influenced the whole world.




Crafts were around
since the beginning of time or at least since the beginning of human. It was
simply a way of surviving whether knapping flint into an arrow head to improve
on hunting or stitching animal fur to battle the cold. Sennett claims in his
book that the brain of human ancestors became larger after using their hand for
other reasons than steadying of the moving body and that lead to humans using
tools and developing a culture. (2008, p. 150). Handmaking was an essential
part of human evolution that aloud humanity to be where we are right now.

Not only crafts helped
humans to survive but also let then advance in education since sculpting and
drawing was the only way of documenting any events and passing knowledge to
next generations. For example, Venus of Willendorf (Figure 1) is an 4,5-inch figure
of Venus estimated to be carved out of limestone between about 28,000 and
25,000 B.C. way before any written language existed. Some scientist hypothesise
that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits by women and the
complete lack of face explained simply by non-existence of mirrors.

                                Figure 1.

Relationship between
craft and technology was never as close as it was in ancient times. It went
side by side because of what technology meant back then. For example, attaching
stick to a stone made a hammer which was a huge technological upgrade from just
a stone allowing person to hit an object with more force. Next step chipping
side of a hammer and here is first axe – a piece of technology that opens the
doors in a whole woodworking world. Separation began when technology got so
advanced that it made some crafts not needed anymore. Like mid-5th millennium B.C.
metal casting technology suppressed knapping flint and became craft itself.

A good craftsman was
well respected occupation and it wasn’t so easy to become one. Firstly, tools
ware not so easily accessible to practice specific crafts. Furthermore, you
needed a teacher, master of a craft to share his knowledge what might be kept
in his family for generations. Or travel the world to learn different
techniques and expand your skill set. Like an education it was a big privilege.
Today people can access almost unlimited information on any subject, share
their knowledge with the world without even leaving the house.

Antonio Stradivari


The industrial
revolution was an increase in production brought about by the use of machines
and characterised by the use of new energy sources that took place between 1760
to sometime between 1820 and 1840.  This
transition included going hand craft methods to new manufacturing processes
using steam powered machines and the rise of factory system.  Although, revolution was happening almost
everywhere in the world, it started in Europe and especially Britain. (Britannica Academic 2008)

In pre-industrial
world, there was a strong correlation between objects price and value. It
wasn’t possible for something high quality to be cheap, simply because of
highly priced artisan labour, expensive material transportation etc. Industrialisation
made production, material transportation, coal mining etc. cheaper and faster, therefore
more accessible to middle class people. Invention of a steam engine had such a
huge impact on the world that even today we still use it. For example, most of electricity
around the world whether it’s from coal or nuclear power is obtained just using
steam engine technology.

Before that around 80%
of all population was engaged in farming and lived in areas that was beneficial
to agriculture. Increased used of machines over human or animal power in
farming meant that less farm workers were needed and they could leave the land
to industrial towns. However, cities became horrible place to live in because
of air pollutions and dangerous work conditions in factories. Despite that percentage
of people living in a city in Britain jumped from 15% in 1750 to 50% in 1850
and by 1900 it was over 85%. (Britannica Academic 2017)

In general, industrial
revolution had a substantial positive influence towards technological progress,
education, transportation and decrease in starvation however, it was also a
beginning of consumerism, overcrowding in cities and poverty.

Since the industrial



Arts and Crafts movement was one of the most important
and influential movement in design world and its values are still very applicable
to this day. It started around 1870’s but quickly spread across Europe and
America. Movement was aimed at the industrial revolution and consumerism that
demoted craftsmanship. Two most associated figures were British designer, poet
and entrepreneur William Morris and John Ruskin.

Morris considered himself as a poet and an artist. He
was simply interested into making things for his own satisfaction or enjoyment
of his friends. After his marriage Morris became obsess with a project of
building and furnishing a family home in south east London called the Red House.
Almost every piece of furniture in that house was designed and made by ether
William himself or by his close friend the architect Philip Webb. The experience
of building and fitting out (Britannica Academic 2016)

John Ruskin



Perfection is usually associated with symmetry,
precision, taut, harmonious shapes and western world often is looking for this
in objects. Japanese have completely different view and it is called wabi-sabi.
Imperfections, impermanence and modesty are valued in wabi-sabi. This idea
comes from Buddhism and teaches to find beauty and piece in surrounding world
(English 2016). However notion like this is impossible in today’s industrial
world with mass produced object which are identical to one another. People are
losing difference and diversity in products (McFarren 2015). „Traveling
in was so more exciting in the past because anywhere you go everything is
different.” Max Lamb

Wabi-Sabi becomes popular again in western world since
the ideology shares same values as Makers movement. However, people in
developing countries dream about



Enzo Mari is 77-year-old Italian designer most known
for Proposta per un Autoprogettazione project he started in 70’s. It is a
technical drawing for series of furniture that people would be able to make themselves
at home using pre-cut timber and nails. Mari would send them to anyone who
would post him stamped addressed envelope and he received thousands of
requests. These furniture pieces were not meant to be just a cheap solution for
people to furnish their home. It was a statement against consumerism. (McGuirk

Mari worries about the future of today’s designers just
because more people join design studies then the world possibly needs. (McGuirk





of craft changed from type of manufacturing to something perhaps more art related
or spare-time activity. Many people choose craft as recreational activity
because of its therapeutic effect on mindfulness without any intentions of benefiting
financially. It’s actually opposite because, even though there are some free
workshop events, most of them requires a fee to participate.

Mass-production in developing countries is capable of producing
relatively high-quality product for extremely low price which puts local
manufacturing in western world in tough position. Furthermore, technology
impact on people life is still rapidly growing and electronic devices is not
something craftsmen would be able to manufacture in their workshops. Huge
demand of electronics is influences by business models, where life cycle of
most devices barely reaches couple years. In general, people especially young
adults do not own as much items. A lot people living in London for many years
do not own single piece of furniture or kitchenware simply because every
apartment or house was fully furnished. Even IKEA agrees that we reached a peak
of home furnishing, according to Wiles. (Wiles 2016)


Food industry is a good example of craftsmanship still
being very much appreciated over the mass production. Unlike technology or
fashion industry food is considered the best when it’s carefully prepared in
one of a kind restaurant by skilled chefs or even at home. Even though restaurant
chains like McDonalds, KFC, Nando’s, etc. receive commercial success, most of consumers
agree that it’s not a quality product.

Like in the design world, there is a movement that
promote choosing quality, probably more expensive and in this case organic
product over cheaper and more accessible option. There are a lot of
similarities between these two issues: more and more products end up in
landfills while more people facing obesity problem. These examples are very different
and way more complicated however, it seems like one of the causes must do
something with the market flooded with cheap, low quality, mass-produced products.

Food industry is interesting case because unlike some other
crafts it might change but it will always be there simply because people just
have to eat to exist. Because of that reason some crafts moved towards food
preparation field. For example, blacksmiths that used to make swords, especially
in Japanese culture where sword making techniques where passed down from
generation to generation didn’t want all that knowledge to disappear moved on
to kitchen knife making. Obviously, the meaning of craft has changed but very
same techniques are applied even to this day and handcrafted Japanese knives
are much appreciated and have demand all over the world despite the price that
could reach hundreds of pounds.


Food making is quite different from other crafts
because of its very temporary physical outcome. In most cases handmade food is
only available and known locally because of short shelf life however, rise social
media made it easier than ever to promote yourself as a craftsman and gain success.
Dinara Kasko is a good example of receiving admiration in craft and design
fields because of the internet. Ukrainian patisserie chef uses her background
in design in architecture to create desserts in complex 3D geometric shapes (Figure ). It is also an
example of how technology goes along and opens new opportunities for specific
crafts. Kasko uses parametric design software called Grasshopper to 3D print and later on make silicon moulds to get pastries
in desired shapes. (Duddy 2017)


Open design connects creative individuals via internet
allowing professionals and amateur designers to share knowledge and break down
barriers. Motivated by passion for designing and making rather than commercial
benefits open design brings developed and developing countries closer.
(Cruickshank and Atkinson 2014)

Justin uses an open source design company called Opendesk
that offers drawings for child’s stool. They claim it to be revolutionary,
disruptive and customisable. He finds out the price of the stool being 170£
which is a price made up of 54£ for material, 98£ manufacturing cost and 18£
for delivery. This seems way too extreme for such a product. For that amount of
money, you can get many stools from mass manufacturing companies or a designer
piece (McGuirk 2014). However, Justin takes a middleclass person that lives in
London or at least somewhere in UK as an example of end-user. This price
estimation would vary significantly from country to country. Price in less
economically developed nations could be up to 10 times cheaper, but having
exactly same product.

Open design might not make much sense for common person,
but it is a big deal for communities and institution such as school and
universities. Places like these often have access to CNC machines as technology
becomes cheaper and more available, and can really benefit from companies like

Open design furniture doesn’t not look nearly as good
as piece you can buy for 200 pounds.  This
is part of why open source design isn’t successful because price doesn’t match
the looks. However, a lot of people find timber pallet furniture very appealing
especially in public places like bars and outside restaurants. Again, where it
seems impractical for individual home furnishing, open-source design might be appropriate
for larger scale projects for public spaces.

Notion of buying IKEA stools is opposite to open-source
design because of mass production in developing countries and shipping all
around the world.

Justin says he’s not against open source design idea,
but it’s just too expensive to compete to mass production. Opendesk isn’t the
first company to trying to promote open source design. Enzo Mari presented
furniture series Autopregettazione in 1974, and it received quite lot of
interest although it didn’t change the way people acquired furniture. Back then
it was hard to get your message out to the world because of lack of
communication technology.

The old view is that individual genius, alluring
objects and consumers. New view is network, the system and the participant.
Enzo Mari’s approach of open design is more seductive for Justin.

McGuirk argues that we are between revolutions rather
than in the middle of one. Open source design is still more like an idea then a
practical way of manufacturing and obtaining products. A case study in buying
sofa in Italy where furniture is made combining crafts and industrialised
processes, makes his case for quality Design furniture being still strongly
tied to conventional manufacturing models, rather than new Open Models.
(McGuirk 2014)




Today’s media is full of craftsmanship promoting
articles with lots of attention on process and not only finished product like
it was in the past. Handmaking is kind of therapy and one of the keys to
fulfilling life. (McGuirk 2011)

Before industrial revolution, designer and craftsman
roles were closer to each other. But since then these professions separated
where designer draws what then industrial craftsmen will mass-produce. However,
more and more young designers could be identified as designer-makers. This trend
is conspicuous at the annual Design Parade exhibition at the Villa Noailles.
Designers like Max Lamb, Jean-Baptiste Fastrez, Maarten Baas etc. make their
designed object using manual labour. This approach to design fits increasing
demand for customisation. (McGuirk 2011)

The growth of designer-maker is influenced by the fact
that is more popular that even to choose designer profession while possibility
of releasing a mass-produced product in consumer market is rather low (McGuirk
2017). Making your own designed object may be the only opportunity to have
successful carrier in product design industry. (McGuirk 2011)

Sam Jacob points out different perspective in his
article. All these needs and demands in capitalist consumerism era have a
negative side and it harder than ever to ignore the consequences like child
labour, sweatshops, wage exploitation, pollution etc. Reason for this is a
shift in a relationship between people and objects. Consumers are removed from
manufacturing as far as possible by online stores, choosing they items just by
glimpse at photos without any curiosity of how the object feels in a hand or
where and how it was made. The idea of designer-maker aims to bring back direct
relationship between objects and consumers, designers and manufacturers. (Jacob

According to Sam contemporary maker movement started in
80’s after few very successful examples of appreciation for craftsmanship in
design world. One of them was Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge made by designer
himself. Because of its the quality of making and uniqueness piece was sold in
an auction for a price of 1480000$ in 2009. (Jacob 2015)

People use cheap mass-produced object to hack and
improvise to fulfil a need for customisation as shown in an example of IKEA
furniture hacking website
In general DIY culture is more active than ever. It is an essential for
developing skills to use imagination, repair and improvise according to Sennett
(2008, p 10).

The impact of all these ideas is clearly visible in
emerging Fab labs and maker spaces where people can use workbenches and
machines that otherwise wouldn’t have access to. At this point it is not only
about making. Movement covers socials aspects, opportunities for employment and
supporting local production. (Jacob 2015)

While in theory it seems to make sense invest into
quality product reality is quite different. For example, 4-piece cutlery set by
Maarten Baas (Figure.1) cost around 100 pounds which adds up to rather ridiculous
amount if you want to set a table for a family dinner. IKEA, on the other hand,
offers 24-piece stainless steel set called SMAKGLAD (Figure.2) for 25 pounds
and some might say both sets have relatively similar aesthetics. Of course,
there is an absolute budget option – 2.50 for 16-piece set and that is more
than 150 times more expensive then Baas’s design. This is an extreme example
but even looking at open-source design like Autopregettazione wardrobe by Enzo
Mari, just cost or material would be higher than a wardrobe from IKEA. (McGuirk

           Figures 2, 3.



Freitag bags

“IKEA’s Frakta has broken through into design consciousness”




Andrea Trimarchi and
Simone Farresin are design duo from Italy that formed studio Formafantasma.
They mainly focus on furniture and kitchenware using organic, raw materials.
Designers explore relationships between traditions and local culture, ancient
artefacts and architecture, sustainability etc. Their work have been published
internationally at museums like London’s Victoria & Albert, New York’s
Metropolitan Museum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Mint Museum of Craft and
Design in North Carolina etc. Furthermore, designers are also lecturing and
running workshops in various institutions.

4, 5.

These are pieces from De
Natura Fossilium collection that Formafantasme made in collaboration with Gallery
Libby Sellers (Figure. 3, 4). Project was an investigation of the culture of
lava in the Mount Etna and Stromboli regions of Sicily. Designers collected
samples of the lava stone from Etna and nearby Stromboli to melt and blow to
create glass. All pieces from this collection have rather brutalist aesthetics
that represents dramatic and scary event of Mount Etna eruption at 2013. (De Natura Fossilium 2014)



Maarten Baas is a one
of the most influential Dutch designers of this century. His works is very
expressive, playful, artistic and theatrical. Some objects look like three-dimensional
interpretation of possibly child sketches. With limited pieces Baas’s work lies
on the line between design and art.

In 2009 Maarten with
designer Bas den Herder converted a former barn into a workshop where he
produced Clay collection (Figure 5), pieces for Smoke series etc. (Hobson 2014)

Figure 6.

The Clay series was presented in 2006 in
Milan. Surrealistic, spontaneous and bright coloured furniture pieces are hand
shaped using industrial clay without any moulds, therefore every single object
is unique. With prices from 2500£ for a chair to 9000£ for a bookshelves
designer work is more often ends up in a museum rather than a household.



Sebastian Cox is a
workshop and design studio located in south east London where Sebastian himself
with group of young makers, designers and wood lovers design and make
collections of furniture. Team work only with British hardwoods and use every
inch of material simply because of appreciation for beautiful timber.

Sebastian seems like a
classic artisan making products using traditional crafts. However, in the
interview with Ross Bryant he said that he’s not sentimental or sad because of
disappearing of crafts and he’s just happy to make objects by hand and learn
new techniques. Even if those techniques are considered to be classic
craftsmanship examples by others, Sebastian feels that ability to make is what
unites us as people. Hand crafted objects resonates with a customer’s primitive
maker urges and as result end-user will enjoy product more keeping it out of
the landfill for longer. (Winston 2014)


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