Crafting Useful Things Part 2

Corrugated Cardboard hearts

Punching holes

Materials Based Designing Continued.

“ 2. I will often sketch ideas and, usually with recycled things, I’ll cut up a couple for experiments.”

Having worked out the most useful and relevant properties of my chosen material, and also defined those that might be deleterious, I like to sketch and jot down ideas for using it. That is how I came up with my water bottle cuffs.

Step 2 is essentially Play!

Play might be defined as undirected, enjoyable, experimental. It’s putting the various characteristics of the material that I listed to practical testing. I want to see what the material will do. Using the plastic as an example:

  • if it bends, how far?
  • if it reacts to heat, how much?
  • if it seems soft enough to cut, with what tool? And can it be pierced or punched?

I tend to cut stuff up, especially to see how the edges look. Some of the things I cut were small flowers with a pin hole in the center, to use as custom brads, giant sequins or embellishments.

I want to have fun. I might easily make nothing useful at first.

Defining “Useful”.

When I work on craft projects, especially upcycled stuff, I try to make it useful:

  • Practical, pragmatic – Cute is fun, but not enough – the object must serve a purpose that is ultimately to make life simpler, more efficient or more comfortable.
  • Fulfilling a need – including the need for aesthetic appreciation.

My goal is “efficiency with elegance”.

Therefore qualities to avoid include fussy. Good design means functionality that limits fuss.

I mentioned recycled plastic bottle cuffs- and they are cute BUT some are challenging to wear because they get hot, and fasten awkwardly. However the one I made with the button and loop, and soft crocheted edging is much more comfortable and easy to wear.

Recycled Water bottle cuffs dyed and embellished

Upcycled Cuffs

Design Report from Dwell On Design Expo.

I had an interesting time at the Dwell Expo, a trade show about Modernist design focusing on architecture and interiors – all very practical “real world” applications of good design. I saw a ton of design that was both useful and elegant. I saw materials based upcycling – “how can I use this material to make beautiful, useful things?”, resulting in furniture, wall coverings and lighting fixtures.

I also saw a lot of “Solution Based Design”. The designers were defining the problem, choosing an aesthetic (in this case mostly Modernism), and then finding the material to make the solution work.

One company talked about using materials as an aesthetic guide. They are creating new luxury gift products for JCPenney. They focused on the colors and textures of natural materials – wood, stone, metals – as emblematic of luxe.

I was fascinated by the prototyping process, because it reminded me so strongly of scientific method. The designers had initial sketches, then proposed a hypothesis – “will this design work?” They then experimented with more drawings, working models, 3D printed prototypes for shapes to test the functionality and ergonomics, and finally a conclusion – a working, useful product.

I’ll be writing up some articles, especially about sustainable construction and green architecture, for Natural Life Magazine.

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If anything turns out to be useful to you, please let me know in the comments.

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