Craft skills and technical prowess are vital for design

It is timely for the design industry to be debating the merits of craft skills through Design Week’s pages at a time when Government-related agencies are addressing skills in the cultural sector generally.

The discussion started by Howard Milton’s impassioned plea last summer for a craft revival has hit home. The tragic death of Alan Fletcher last month serves to remind us of an era – and an attitude – that put craft skills alongside ideas as the main generators of great graphic design. Significantly, many of those international heroes now paying tribute to Fletcher have, like him, had the courage over time to fight on these terms – and win.

It is good, though, to have the pro-craft position put by someone on the other side of the fence – Chris Holmes from pre-press house Brand Images/Tapestry.

Craft skills and an eye for what is right aren’t just the province of the designer. Equal responsibility lies with any technical collaborator, be it a pre-press expert, a printer, a manufacturer or a shopfitter, and the best work tends to come through close partnership between them and a designer – once an enlightened client has enabled the best design to go through.

Great designers of all disciplines acknowledge this. Why else would Apple Computer star Jonathan Ive spend much of his time working alongside manufacturers in China. Cost-saving may be key for Apple’s financiers, hence the involvement of the Chinese, but for Ive the quality of the products is what will shine through. Helping Chinese machine-operators to realise their potential as craft workers to hit his company’s high standards is part of achieving this.

So while Creative and Cultural Skills deliberates over the future for design, its folk should take account of the interdependence of creative and technical skills. The creative community needs to be encouraged not to think of technical collaborators as ‘suppliers’, but as partners equally bent on achieving great things.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor – Design Week

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