Artists Bring the Human Element to Industrial Design

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design Technology Wearables
Artists Bring the Human Element to Industrial Design

At MakerCon New York last month, we focused keenly on the role of design in the business of Making. We invited new manufacturing and fashion startups to join us to discuss the return of local manufacturing for international design and even featured an Israeli artist, Danit Peleg, who is creating couture clothing using an ordinary home 3D printer. What struck me was the emotion that emanated from these discussions.

Moderating MakerCon’s Design panel was Allan Chochinov, the founder of NYC’s School of Visual Arts’ MFA program in Products of Design. He’s also a partner in Core77, a network serving cutting-edge designers that was founded during the Internet’s relative infancy, in 1995. Core77 has a conference, Designing Here/Now, set for next week in Los Angeles, and their conversational slate has me thinking about how design, as Chochinov describes it, can (and perhaps should) create “context-specific persuasive objects” that can actually change human behavior.

The Jacquard Project intends to make wearable electronics as ordinary as blue jeans.

Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division has the new Jacquard project underway that makes a good example. We’ve been seeing a lot here and on other sites about the exciting boom in wearable technologies — and I don’t mean a data-collector that tracks health stats.

Rather, what is perhaps more exciting are technology-enabled clothes that can express emotion as well as create more durable interpersonal connections. Developing a conductive thread so seamlessly woven into fabric that the bulk of circuits and conductors is hidden, Jacquard aims to make a yarn strong enough to withstand the rigors of industrial looms but which can connect the wearer to a stranger, the IoT, or a smart phone. The Core77 conference hosts Paul Dillinger of Levi Strauss, a manufacturer participating in the Jacquard project, in conversation with Google ATAP’s Ivan Poupyrev.

Fine artist and designer Tanya Aguiñiga also works with cloth. Born in Tijuana and raised on both sides of the border — she remembers crossing to the U.S. each workday morning so that her San Diego-based grandmother could babysit her while her father worked — Aguiñiga is really as much a Maker as anything else.

Working to help the poverty-stricken residents of a village near Tijuana, she has led several initiatives there to build housing, a community center, schools, and other infrastructure using the “pound to fit, paint to match” theory of construction that is a necessity when all materials are salvaged.

In her art, Aguiñiga uses wool — primarily felt — and other textiles. She became famous for her work felting ordinary metal folding chairs to make them, she has said, more welcoming, and has even allowed her own body to be felted. More practically, Aguiñiga has taught the felting craft to other women to help them earn a living.

Tanya being felted; at right, a chair she made using paper clips.
Tanya being felted; at right, a chair she made of paper clips.

Traveling to Chiapas to learn backstrap weaving prompted her installation “Crossing the Line,” shown above. Her childhood traversing the U.S./Mexican border continues to inform her ideas.

Recently, she used the industrial gray blankets given to homeless residents of Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood to create wall hangings and other three-dimensional pieces that have resonance beyond just looking good next to the couch.

Thinking beyond the cloth is designer Jessie Kawata, who is one of six artists employed by NASA JPL in their core mission development team.

Kawata describes her job as helping scientists learn what she calls a “visual vocabulary” that allows them to incorporate story telling in their mission design process. Design, she says, isn’t just about aesthetics and form. It’s also about envisioning function and plotting strategy so that the best minds in space can evolve concepts for missions heretofore unconsidered.

Jessie Kawata helps astrophysicists learn the vocabulary of design.
Jessie Kawata helps astrophysicists learn the vocabulary of design.

Calling herself an “artonaut,” Kawata told her alumni magazine that by using visualization, creative strategies, and rapid prototyping, her team can be better at becoming science storytellers who bring “emotion back into the galactic world of robots, planets, asteroids, and spacecraft.”

With Make:‘s Space issue currently on the newsstands, I like to think of the galaxy growing more artonauts and artists and how good and thoughtful design brings all of this together.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty


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