Yana Boeva
What is the value of making?, Triennale di Design, Milano, 2016

What is the value of making?, Triennale di Design, Milano, 2016

Digital fabrication technologies (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling, electronics) and practices of participation (craft, DIY) have been hailed as a way of reconfiguring our understandings of categories like professional and amateur, work and leisure, and of dissolving the boundaries between them. They stand for a lateral approach that disrupts traditional, normative forms of production, expertise, and consumption. These forms and categories are themselves historical products, though.

My work considered how the emerging practices and technologies of digital fabrication draw on specific and powerful historical discourses about work, production, expertise, and creativity, while, at least in narratives, attempting to reshape the long-standing, modern relationship between amateur makers and design professionals.

I applied a qualitative methodology combining an ethnographic survey with a critical historical analysis of the relationship of design to making from the perspectives of expertise, values, and participation. The empirical study included fabrication laboratories and makerspaces in several countries, all built upon the idea of digital fabrication as open to everyone.

The project intersects the fields of science and technology studies (STS), design research, and the history of technology and design.

Digital Fabrication | Making

How are the technologies for digital fabrication and the spaces, in which these are located, shaping design practice and beyond? At the very least, making and digital fabrication influence design practice through different levels of materialization.

They successfully combine conceptual design to manufacturing of prototypes and smaller batches by “connecting producing things with thinking about things”.

But what other infrastructures (Star & Ruhleder 1996) behind the visible ones frame making as a professional design practice or method, rather than as a social emancipator? 

Design

Bauhaus School Building Dessau, 2017

What historical moments produce design as a professional practice?

In particular, I draw an analytical comparison to the Bauhaus proposition of uniting handwork and artistic practice. The Bauhaus school called for compulsory training in artisanal workshops and confronted specialization, while industrial design work already commenced a break from handwork.

However, material participatory practice lost value until the effects of digitalization and downsizing manufacturing technologies evoked a post-modern Bauhaus idea. 

How can a contemporary phenomenon of digital fabrication / making be situated along that?

Expertise | Skill

What are the effects of making on understandings of expertise? 

Making promotes the idea that everybody can participate without being an expert and thereby become one. Expertise by making is validated within the situatedness and context of maker communities. Design practice, however, relies on expertise legitimized by education or by professional institutions. 

Foregoing research on making has already critically examined how less technically skilled novices access makerspaces and fab labs, how participation is encouraged, and how knowledge is shared. However, there has been little research on the specific topic of design expertise involved in order to fabricate objects and the skills that can be translated in these processes.

I analyze some of the following aspects and issues: Which type of expertise counts as such? How can other than technical and design skills operate in practice in a meaningful way? What moral, organizational and physical structures and procedures are required to acknowledge expertise by making?

Customization Means Relationship