Is hands-on design a thing of the past?

I am a hand-skills-based maker with 30 years’ experience of working within the product design sector of the industry. Therefore, as a professional ’maker’ working within the design industry, I read with interest the article by Anna Norman entitled ’New model army’ about hand-making in the design process (Design Week, 14 April) .

It is always good to see the less obvious ’underbelly’ of design get some coverage.

While from a personal point of view, I hope that there will always be a place for hand-skillsbased making in the industry, I feel that the days of hands-on design is becoming a thing of the past.

There are, in my opinion, two reasons for this decline: Hand-skills-based design-making is thriving, but only at design consultancies that have historically supported such an inclusive approach to design. Maintaining an infrastructure to support what is a peripheral discipline within the design community takes a broad level of support from individual designers and consultancies as a whole. As time progresses there are fewer start-up consultancies with any real experience of the variety and capability of traditional talent available to them. Increasingly, most architectural and product designers work in 3D CAD formats and this tends to encourage (through direct file sharing) the use of ’modern’ rapid prototyping technologies to realise their designs.

’Making’ using a hand-skills-based approach is very training intensive. It takes at least five to seven years in the industry, training on the job, to gain reasonable proficiency.

Very few companies (either design, or model-making) will bear the cost of this training, when as a modern viable alternative, a CAD literate CNC (or other rapid prototype technology) operator can be trained to proficiency within six months.

Of course, the use of modern process and new technologies are important for the industry. The capabilities of new technologies now available for even small consultancies/one-man companies are truly remarkable and should be embraced.

However, as has been shown in other industries, total reliance on technology generally reduces the gross skill levels (and levels of insight and understanding), as well as the number of people within an industry.

In an industry that is founded on creative input and dynamism, design should embracethe new, but should be careful not to discard what is valid and important from what has been before.

Personal input, not machines, create good design, and the same is true of the ’made’ object.

John Reeves, Therefore, by e-mail

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