Computers are essential to new means and methods in design as everywhere else in the world today. This goes without question and I believe we need no further argument to justify their place. But we can argue about where, when and how much. As a design educator, I am very concerned by what I see in the classroom/studio. Basic sensitivities to form, material, scale and ergonomics are in decline. Students are easily and heavily seduced by the computer’s capacity to deliver images that gleam and glisten on screen, regardless of how they might one day feel and work in the hand. This phenomenon is ironically worsened by the one-two punch of CAD programs coupled with robot printers that generate 3D models. The work of the robots makes it all too easy to create something that looks shelf and market ready, with little thought, little testing, and almost none of the essential hand to mind feedback that made our species uniquely capable of dreaming and building such a complex environment for ourselves. I use the computer and I use 3D printers. But I use them in careful conjunction with traditional studio skills that I am proud to have studied and mastered and I would never give a user a designed tool that I gave to a robot for production before deeply vetting its form and function with my own two hands. I am sincerely concerned about a future wherein we find ourselves manually bankrupt and beholden to technologies that undermine the very ingenuity and self-reliance that make us human. This article in the WSJ speaks to that with interesting data.
A gentleman named Matt Keveney launched the website, 507movements.com, with all original illustrations from the 1868 book, Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements by Henry T. Brown. Keveney has animated some of the examples very elegantly. It’s a fabulous site. Beautiful to peruse and total educative.
Via the New York Times’ Lively Morgue blog, “In 1955, a 14-year-old with ambitions to go to the moon built a robot he named Gismo, winning the Industrial Arts Competition run by the Ford Motor Company. Gismo walked, talked and waved his arms, and he cost $15 to make. He was one of 72 examples of craftsmanship by teenagers on display at the Waldorf-Astoria.” (via silencematters)
So what’s wrong with us now? Can our kids still do this? Are they less educated? Less mechanically inclined? Are the tools of manufacture too complex and removed from them? Are the skills of manual labor devalued bu their surrounding people and culture?
I think the entire system of early childhood development and education is completely out of alignment with reasonable expectations for the life goals of the majority of American children and teaches them to devalue rudimentary materials and skills that were the grist for the mill of human innovation for millenia. I am percolating and bringing together ideas from a number of directions in which I’ working at the moment and hope to arrive at a cohesive early childhood educational philosophy in the next year or two.
Ultimately what I do in life is work to make processes of all kinds more efficient and enjoyable. It’s like a tick and it gets into everything from putting on my clothes to arranging work spaces. And so I’ve tried to make a career out of it. But anyway, I also love to cook– one of the richest processes in the human experience. And I love fried eggs. Runny yolk, cooked whites. So it should come as no surprise that the methods of Chef José Andrés get me totally psyched for breakfast tomorrow! Watch the nytimes slideshow. It’s a beautiful technique.