Making things.

I think that it’s important for designers to know how to make things. I mean physically. I’ve known FAR too many designers who have no Earthly clue how to actually *make* anything(and it’s *sad*, is what it is) . They don’t know how a cabinet gets made, or exactly why a dovetail joint is preferable to a butt joint(Stacy, stop twitching.). They know that it *is*, but not why. All they do know is they order a cabinet and it comes. Sure, the lead time is 12-16 weeks but if you asked them why, they wouldn’t know, nor would they know a list of perfectly valid (if annoying) reasons why that time might be delayed on the manufacturing end. They have no clue what it’s like to actually paint a room (or how hard and time consuming it is to paint one well.) How those metal knobs and pulls are made? No idea. How textiles are woven or knit? They shrug. It’s like being an orchestral conductor who has no idea how to play any of the instruments they’re directing. It also makes for weaker designers, because they just have no concept of how you get from point a to point b, or what’s involved or how much time it takes, and that shows in their work. They just figure “someone” will take care of it “somewhere”. It’s bad enough that clients often think that whatever it is that needs to be built can be done in 48 hours (thanks, TV!), but it’s worse when designers themselves aren’t much better. It’s as though they think the magical Design Fairy comes along and waves their LEED approved wand made of sustainable and renewable resources and boom- you have a finished product. Heaven forbid you get your hands dirty yourself (as I type this with purple hands from all the overdye on the yarn with which I’m currently knitting) If this sounds like you, I have something to tell you:

Your contractors hate you. I’m not sure I blame them. Actually no, I don’t blame them at all.

I admit that I know how to make and build a lot more things than the average bear, and that colors my thinking. That fact not only has an impact on my design aesthetic, but it has a huge impact on the way I manage a project, how I deal with contractors, subs and clients, and my comfort level on a job site. Learn how to use a nail gun, people.

But even if the things you can make aren’t necessarily job related, it’s still important conceptually to know how to make stuff by hand because you understand things like of time and cost(in relation to time). I know my jewelry making friends never appreciated just how much time and effort went into making a set of earrings until they made some. My sewing friends… well, I have no idea how they do anything, since sewing is perhaps the one thing I *don’t* do. I never knew what a complete pain in the ass it was to create a book (I mean physically, not write one. I’m not a writer nor do I play one one TV) until I did it. People that don’t cook really don’t understand what goes into creating the spectacular holiday dinner that appears magically on the table. And if all you’re doing is designing on paper, and you never learn how to *build* anything, or to make anything (even as a hobby) in three dimensional space, I think it takes away something from your design abilities; your understanding of design on a holistic level, even if what you can build or make isn’t design in and of itself.

So what have you made lately?



  1. Since being in Knoxville, I have physically made 2 floor to ceiling bookshelves and reassembled a bed which I designed and made the previous year in Jackson, MS.

    Considering that I was the primary labor for the construction of my mom’s house (or at least 2,200 s.f. of it, she did her studio – 160 s.f. solo) I feel confident that I can accomplish my next task, the design and construction of a small cottage on local land for my wife and I.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that a designer with no clue how to make something is a poor designer. Also, when do I get this LEED approved wand you speak of? I have my accreditation now. I want my wand!

  2. Gah – I feel exactly the same way about graphic designers who have no idea how an actual printing press works, leading to honest to god professionals asking me why we can’t just run the file, ’cause it looked fine on their computer screen, and *their* client already approved the layout.

  3. I think I know why sewing might be an issue. You have stated a number of times that you have a problem with the 3D stuff mixed with the left/right flipping issue.

    Sewing is the alchemy of taking a 2D object and making it a 3D object. I think if you learn to do short rows in knitting (ususally to give room in the bust) may help enlighten.

    Next time I come down – ask me to draw you some pattern pieces, or, if you have someone local who has one of the Vogue (or Readers Digest – it’s the same book) Complete Book of Needlework, it has basic patterns in it. I think you could grok it if someone gives you a a guided tour.

  4. ::chuckle::

    What’s worse, when a designer hasn’t worked with the materials before, the likelihood of them choosing something inappropriate to the situation skyrockets. If you can’t explain why upholstering the chair in ultra-delicate fabric would be a poor choice, you’re less likely to be able to divert impulsive/foolish clients or even yourself. Same goes for types of wood, or metal, or anything else. Just because you think it’ll look cool doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.

    I sew and pattern passably well, I can paint a wall well (though my most recent projects are not prime examples – damn toddlerhood!), my embroidery is fine, and I knit and crochet competently if not extraordinarily quickly. My woodworking skills are mostly theoretical, though every DIY project we do adds to that base. I do not enjoy cooking, though baking I do (in a follow the recipe as opposed to an experimental basis). I am competent at (re)finishing, though I admit to finding the finish/sand/repeat process tedious.

  5. My thoughts exactly! As a graphic designer, I’m so glad for the production experience under my belt to save my clients from surprises as the project actualizes. I want to strangle these kids who smear CMYK all over the screen and pass the buck so “someone else” can sleep in the bed they’ve made.

    Cheers, from another INTJ poster child. šŸ˜‰


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