The crafting skills of handwork, vision on what design should embody and the definition of quality commodities. Designers are and have been becoming powerful authorities that present us with products, trends and shapes that we chase after. The designer as a genius, it’s an idea that is empowered and nurtured through our media. Magazines, blogs and movies get us acquainted with ‘Star Designers’ in architecture and fashion designers who make multi-million dollar transfers to new fashion houses.

      The designer, their delicate crafting abilities and their role as a visionary is an image that has been and is being widely exploited in modern popular culture. The designer in his workshop, it has become a romanticised idea we portray, in documentaries, biographies and memoires that center around their lives and skills. The worshiped makers are depicted as dominant, extrasensory figures, creating outstanding work from their workshops full of tools, assistants and handcrafted goods. With their image becoming heavier of subject in popular cultures, they are becoming a commodity on itself. Surpassing the commodities he or she creates, it’s noticeable how they seem to overclaim their authority in skill and taste.

      When we take a closer look we can notice there is something off about this contemporary portray of the designer and craftsperson. The nostalgia in their portray is so highly emphasised, the image of their crafting identity becomes staged, and rightfully creates feelings of suspect within the critical viewer, making them doubt the credibility of the portrayed. It’s as if we feel the identity and creditability of the craftsperson slipping away, it’s changing, and in counter-reaction to this we scrupulously hang on to what we know or used to be familiar with, by blowing up their image. This fear of change explains itself when we take a closer look at the tools and the environment that help the designer claim their skill and vision in these portraits. For a person living and working in the 21st century, with FabLabs slowly replacing traditional workshops, these images are oddly old fashioned.

      Pioneering craftspeople using 3D technologies, and generative design methods have set in motion a new makers movement. Half engineer, half designer the contemporary craftsperson is not only establishing new crafting methods, but as well their way of working is suggesting a new position for the designer within the making proces. Replacing drawing tables, tapelines and sketches with Lasercutters, 3D scanners and generative design software, vision, skill and therewith the authority of designers have started to shift.

      When comparing the design proces of the new maker versus the romanticised craftsperson, the new maker acclaims less knowledge and skill, while giving away credit to their tools and users by the use of new crafting technologies. In example, when we look at the fashion designer, we traditionally them to take the measurements of a client with a tapeline, then making a sketch, and turning it in to a design that is presented and experienced as something desirable for the vision and taste of the designer that the piece embodies.

      But in the new, 21st century workshop the tapeline is replaced by a 3D body-scanner, giving the designer the possibility to get the exact measurements on every part of the body, instead of the numbers of 4 circumferences. With this change, the designer gets to create a design, made to such highly custom sizing it’s as unique as a persons DNA, an incomparable precision to the measurements a designer would take themselves. As new makers willingly admit the job is done better by a machine, they give the job and credit of measuring out a design the the technology of the device instead of acclaiming it themselves.

      In further pursuit of creating a design as custom as one’s DNA, the 3D body-scanner doesn’t only innovate the way designers size their design, but as well makes it possible for them to create dessins and shapes custom to one’s body metrics. With the use of software such as Grasshopper and Rhino, shapes and dessins are calculated to be placed in the size and part on the where they look best on the wearer, shaping the pattern and material around the body perfectly.  With software calculating a design around the body, the designer consigns part of the design process to a computational mechanism, the algorithms of the software taking over a part of the designer’s original job.

      Of course the design still takes use of the input of the designer, but the end result of the design is the result of both the choices of the designer and the calculations of an algorithm. Instead of being able to define the final look of a design, the designer can only create rules for the software to follow while calculating a design on the body. How thick lines should be in a design, or how far they should be apart. Then, as the rules are applied, a design is calculated on bases on what’s best for the wearer’s body, making the designer more of a programmer rather than a extrasensory designer.

      Meanwhile, as the algorithm uses the body of the wearer as the input on which the design is applied to, the body becomes just as powerful of an impact on the design as the designer of the piece. The metrics of the body have just as much influence on the final design as the rules applied by the designer. So, not only is role of the designer shifting over to new technologies, as well the wearer is impacting the design process through these new technologies. It creates a new dynamic in the design proces, where the designer becomes partly facilitator and programmer of the design technology, and it’s the wearer’s body that inspires a highly unique design.

      It’s this change that the design world, or culture that is being created around it, is afraid to embrace and is being masked with an abundance of star designer portraits. The designer’s atelier is changing, and welcoming new technologies to their practice, making their delicate handcrafting skills dispensable and replacing them with software and machinery that complete these tasks with an efficiency and perfection that’s impossible to counterfeit by human beings. Additionally, the wearer of a design is no longer an solely an entity that the designer gets to project his vision and taste on, but the wearer’s body inspires the final design. Turning both crafting skills and aesthetic into a shared effort of designer, technology and the body.

      Now of course, the designer still takes the main decisions in the design proces; the material, the type of product that’s being created, what colours will look good on the model, etcetera. But with the introduction of new technologies in the designer workshop, the position of the designer in the process becomes more linear, and the authority over the end result is partly to be allocated to technology and the body of the wearer. The designer partly becomes a design facilitator while the technology takes over the role of the craftsman and the body finds itself in a dressmaker role just as much.

      And while the design world seems to fear how this change will impact what it means to be a designer, it’s exactly this shift that is creating new creditability for the designer. While acknowledging the shared effort of designer, technology and the body of the wearer, the authority of the end result is accredited to the collaborative design process rather than the designer himself. While it may result in loosing their star status as design authority, the new designer, in their computational workshop emancipate from being a design commodity, to making designed commodities, creating new ways back to the traditional meaning of craftsmanship.

      Image: Dress Pattern, created with the use of generative design software on basis of 3D Body scan.
      Title: Be-Tween by Pauline van Dongen & Leonie Tenthof-van Noorden
      Photography: Tomas Mutsaers