The Evolution of Crafts

“… Thus the defense of skill may no longer remain a losing philosophical position. If previously it was usual to assume that computation would only worsen the hand-mind splits engendered by industrialism, now we might consider this problem. We might observe how software usage is restoring some respect for mastery. We might also note the invention of technologies that support the subtleties of the hand. Although most people have failed to perceive in the technologies fledgling states any capacities for new kinds of active skill, perhaps it is still early in the game, and many of these views may well shift.”  Malcolm McCullough, in his book, Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand.

This project is aimed at developing an integrative framework that looks into the evolution of crafts and identifies opportunities where technology can assist craft-based practices. To get an overview of the processes and values involved in craft, we interviewed local craftsmen in Copenhagen – Goldsmiths, Ceramics/Wood artists,  Glass blowers.

Consequently, we identified the different opportunity spaces in the crafts process; learning, creating, and selling, and applied the lens of technology to identify opportunities in that space. For each area, we provide a general overview and examples on the intervention type recommended.

Craft is based upon tacit knowledge, it requires a “personal know-how”. Tacit knowledge often is not visible or expressible, and usually requires joint, shared activities in order to be transmitted. Therefore, in order to create a successful intervention, designers need to create a  learning structure in which technology enriches teaching rather than substituting it.

Apprentice 2.0
Building upon the apprentice-master model, Apprentice 2.0 is an online service allowing students of crafts or DIY enthusiasts to train under masters  in other countries. By doing so, we promote teaching/learning as part of recreation, connecting cultures, retaining the knowledge of experienced masters of craftsmanship.

With technologies like Google glasses soon becoming commonplace, we believe that augmented reality can serve as a guidance mechanism in the process of creating something.

In this area, we examined how modern technology can assist craftsmen in their work while maintaining the values of craftsmanship. Online services, such as  instructables to custommade, have been in supporting the process of designing and making. What we recommend to technology providers in this area is to maintain the classic tools and fabrication process, but add an information layer on top of it.


Selling is the main business driver of craftsmanship. It’s an important process to be supported by technologies. Therfore, we asked the following two questions:

How might we design tools and services that support the craftsmen in the steps of selling? & How can we retain a meaningful relationship between customers and creators?

We saw the answer, again, in online services. With the rise of online markets, craftsmen had again a bigger chance to sell the niche products. Platforms like etsy is a big business driver nowadays, it made the process of setting up an online shop easier by facilitating presentation of products and online payments.

Our team brainstormed to provide examples of possible tangible technologies interventions in the area of marketing and selling. The main two concepts are “The Story of Things” and “Shop Box”.

The Story of Things
Using embedded technologies, a piece of craft can be traced back to its manufacturer to tell a story about the piece in a digital medium, giving a chance for the craftsman to present himself, his workshop, methods and philosophy. This way, the connection between the maker and the owner of craft is maintained and preserved.

Shop box
Shop Box is a shipping box that gives craftsmen more incentives to trust online markets. It’s like a portable shop that can offer customers a chance to see and feel the artifact(s). The box contains sensors that tracks the shipment’s status and reports any problems if necessary.

In conclusion, our design research project has provided a trend report and recommendations for the right practice of technology intervention in the crafts world. It is true, that if we maintain the values of uniqueness and handmade, a combination of emerging technology and established craftsmanship practice can unlock the door to the future of craft.