Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Presents TechnoCRAFT: Design in the Age of Individuality – Hackers Modders, Fabbers and Tweakers

"Bored with mass-production? Scared of cultural globalization? Emotionally disconnected from what you consume? Designers around the world are using technology to fight back and create a new economy based on craft, individualization and mass participation in the process of creation ... " That is according to Yves Behar of Fuse Project regarding the exhibit on display July 22nd to October 3rd, 2010 at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts. After hearing of and seeing the exhibit, we agree.

Western market and economic cultures are moving toward trust-building relationship activities that foster community contribution in design and innovation. The Yerba Buena Center For the Arts' exhibit "TechnoCRAFT" relishes this and provides opportunities for contribution and mental frameworks for us to revel in.

As a trend influencer I must make note of influential creative activation. Addressed herein are major trends of creative personalization, artisanal and crafted culture-building, serious communal play and design innoventions currently evolving our marketplace.

I met Yves at The Milan Furniture show (iSaloni.it) several years ago, introduced by the influential eco crafter Bill Fritts of SolidCore.tv. Yves is one of the major designers of our times and is leading us through paradigm shifting behaviors such as those featured in "TechnoCRAFT" and within GPInnovation.org, an organization helping move designers into more cradle-to-cradle sustainable behaviors.

We matched up young Web designer Jake Cook of DigitalWaxWorks.com and Yves on the opening night of the show. The following is a report from Cook on that opening night experience.

Wanted: Designer--No Experience Necessary but Participation Mandatory

In the recent book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford writes, "People who make their own furniture will tell you it is hard to justify economically, and yet they persist. Shared memories attach to the material souvenirs of our lives, and producing them is a kind of communion, with others and with the future."

So where does this "communion" currently stand in our present age of mass-consumerism and relentless homogenization?

Yerba Buena Center For the Arts in San Francisco along with designers such as Yves Behar, famed product designer and founder of the firm Fuseproject set about documenting this revolt.

Over a year in the making, the show entitled "TechnoCRAFT: Design in the Age of Individuality" features over 800 works by over 40 artists. The show centers around six collaborative sub-themes:

1. Crowdsourcing - Currently uses a community to develop, innovate and choose new design solutions or to shift consumption to a new human solution-focused group engagement. It counts on passionate members to assemble and participate. The idea is becoming adopted as a business strategy in companies like Threadless.com, Local-Motors.com and by social 'innoventions' like the wildly successful global AND local CarrotMob.com.

2. Modules - Modules are the stringing together of individual pieces to create something unique. The user plays a role in deciding how to assemble the design. Designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's Clouds (Kvadratclouds.com) offers a chance to dive in headfirst.

3. Hacks - Originally a geek term for tweaking software, sometimes for malicious reasons. Today it means a manipulation of everything from iPhones to tables for optimum performance, aesthetic variety, added functionality and flexibility.

4. Incompletes - Incompletes start the design process but leave it open to the user to finish. Marijn van der Poll's 'Do Hit' chair made by Droog (droog.com/products/0/do-hit-chair) is a stainless steel cube just waiting for a sledgehammer to complete it. (A patron at the opening night tried to further participate by hitting the chair. All sledgehammers were immediately removed).

5. Blueprints - Blueprints map out the construction process, leaving the experience of building the design to the user. In a visionary act in 1974, Enzo Mari's furniture designs came with a free catalogue and detailed instructions on how to build the pieces yourself.

6. Platforms - Platforms are open, software-based personalization structures that provide easy ways for users to customize or create their own products. PUMA's smartly named "Mongolian Barbecue" let's shoe aficionados design and order through a Flash site and brick and mortar. Nike ID is another famed personalization platform and boutique.

What each of these themes points to is a major cultural shift. People want to create, to once again build with their hands and have a connection to what they own.

If this exhibit is a harbinger of things to come then the user is no longer standing across the divide, looking to the designer to provide an experience or grant permission. Instead, they're rolling up their sleeves and participating right alongside.

On the opening night, visitors were encouraged to participate throughout the "TechnoCRAFT" exhibit such as sketching on a bolt of canvas that would later become pairs of Puma shoes. One patron took participation to the extreme and picked up a sledgehammer and slung it on the 'Do Hit' stainless steel chair. The deafening crash halted the packed gathering and resulted in all sledgehammers immediately being removed from sight.

However, one of the best examples of intentional participation is a simple child's high chair. Using an original classic Ray and Charles Eames chair, a group of design students sawed holes with a jigsaw and drum sander to let a child's legs fall through where the knees naturally bend.

"We were nervous to hack it. It's such an iconic piece but the chairs have a bit of a pretentious air to them," remarked Alex Powell, a member of the team. "We decided to poke a bit of fun at high design and see what the results could be."

The result is best illustrated by a great photo of a young boy with legs slipping through the chair, an oversized guitar watch strapped on, head tipped back leisurely slurping spaghetti. It has become the poster for the event (literally) by highlighting something originally created for the masses and modified by rogue designers to make a more comfortable seat for the end user.

All these hacks and tweaks point to an interesting shift in how we're relating to the products we buy. We want to feel a richer connection to the things we own. Sure, globalization and big box stores have made it cost-prohibitive to go out and build something yourself. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. As "TechnoCRAFT" shows, we all have a voice and more than a few good ideas. By participating in the tweaking of something, we get back some of the creative satisfaction or as the book Shop Class as Soulcraft puts it "a kind of communion."

Edited by Elizabeth Adams

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