Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Hands-On Intellect: Integrating Craft Practice into Design Research

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Hands-On Intellect: Integrating Craft Practice into Design Research

Article excerpt

Introduction: Craft, Design, and Practice-led Research

Craft disciplines such as ceramics, glass, and textiles might fall into the category of applied arts, industrial arts, decorative arts, fine arts, or crafts.1 They have been understood as "medium-designated" practices, the values of which are correlated with material objects and their production (Rowley, 1997). In Finland, due to the growth of design for industrial production in the 1950s,2 the term "design" was adopted to call these craft disciplines (Nimkulrat, 2009a, p. 19). Finnish craft practitioners working with materials and hand tools may create non-functional objects and call their work "art" (e.g., ceramic art, textile art, etc.) and themselves "artists" (e.g., ceramic artists, textile artists, etc.), regardless of their positioning in the design context. In the field of textiles, in which the author is involved professionally, practitioners tend to consolidate both art and design in their occupation (Niedderer & Townsend, 2010, p. 5; Svinhufvud, 2006, p. 145). In Finland, no single form of contemporary Finnish textiles exists. The field is multifaceted and stands independently between industrial design and fine arts. A Finnish textile practitioner is usually called "textile artist", although he or she has manifold characteristics as an artist and a designer, and creates both art and design objects (Svinhufvud, 1998, p. 202).

In textiles as well as other material-designated disciplines, craft is understood not only as a way of making things by hand, but also as a way of thinking through the hand manipulating a material (Nimkulrat, 2010, p. 64). Craft is thus "a means for logically thinking through senses" (Nimkulrat, 2010, p. 75) This understanding follows the notion of craft as "a way of thinking through practices of all kinds" (Adamson, 2007, p. 7) and "a dynamic process of learning and understanding through material experience" (Gray & Burnett, 2009, p. 51). Hence, the process of making material objects by hand can be identified as one way of thinking intellectually (Sennett, 2008, pp. 149-153). Since the knowledge of craft, or how a material constructs an artifact, is not necessarily available in words or illustrations, practitioners are required to perform individual practices and observations while working with materials (Rowley, 1997). Similarly, design knowledge exists in designing activities, in which designers, their creation processes, and resulting artifacts are involved - it is considered a "designerly way of knowing" (Cross, 1982, 1999). Knowledge of a creative practice thus lies in and can be acquired from within the practice itself. In other words, thinking and knowing are inseparable from making in any craft or designerly practices.

Since the 1990s, creative disciplines including art, design, architecture, and performance have increasingly engaged with academic research. The practitioners' creative practices are employed as vehicles of theoretical inquiry and subjects for scholarly research, which has often been labeled practice-led or practice-based research3 (Nimkulrat, 2009b, p. 484; Rust, 2007; Scrivener, 2009,4 p. 69). This approach encourages the inclusion of the researcher's creative practice. Its main concept concerns the researcher who simultaneously takes the role of an artist or a designer and carries out the creative process and production of artifacts as the target of the reflection. According to Rust (2007, p. 75), for artists and designers to be considered researchers, they must prove the ownership of their research by: (1) indicating the research problem and its rationale; (2) demonstrating a good understanding of the research context; (3) acquiring research methods and consolidating them in an explicit way that is understandable by other researchers; and (4) verifying the results and contribution of their research. Unlike historians or philosophers, practitioners are in the position that enables the study of creative artifacts in progress. …

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