I usually call myself a designer maker when people ask me what I do. I would not correct someone if they described me as a furniture maker, a cabinetmaker or just a plain old woodworker. Craftsman is one of my favourite, if a bit vague, artist is a definite no-no, and carpenter and joiner just aren’t quite right. It should at any rate, be a term that reflects both sides of the coin, as it were.
The roots of my skill lie in making. Design for me only really came along during my time at college and even then it was still something of a mystery. There, I designed a desk pretty much entirely within Google SketchUp and it’s still one of my favourite pieces I’ve ever made. I don’t feel anything was lost in doing it this way, although I did design it with the use of pre-veneered MDF in mind, which I certainly wouldn’t do today.
I have always tended to design around a particular process or a material – something which gives a physical limitation and guides you to a suitable outcome. I could never really get on with sketchbooks, not being able to draw very well (if you ever look through any of my sketchbooks, you’ll get a distinct impression of underlying anger and the odd grouping of stab marks) and so I’ve always relied on this method of process led design in my work.
I would love to be a better designer, but I would rather be a better maker who wishes they were a better designer, than a better designer who wishes they were a better maker… if you see what I mean. I am, however, glad that I have a solid grounding in each of these at the very least.
I think that these two things are more inextricably linked than most people imagine. To handle a material and manipulate it, is to better understand its properties. To simply mess around at the workbench is an invaluable way of learning and imagining, and I find that this throws up new ideas and possibilities in a much more effective way than sitting with a piece of paper and a pencil ever can.
This simple stool/table is a good example. It tool me a day to knock together from spare timber I had at the end of my major project at university. I wanted to explore lathe turning as a method of leg construction and so I needed to find the optimum profile and angle that would look just right. The stool in the picture was my first attempt at this. As can be seen though, it needed some refinement. The legs didn’t splay out nearly enough for the piece to be stable and strong, and I wasn’t happy with the shape either.
The next one I did was a lot better though because I had learned from the previous attempt. This new piece was much more balanced and the leg shape looked a lot better. It still wasn’t quite perfect, but it wasn’t far off.
This is the benefit of designing though experience. You learn and evolve your pieces by repetition of the whole or parts of the whole through prototyping and practice.
I would never design something that I couldn’t make myself, and I don’t suppose I could design something I couldn’t make myself either, due to this way of process led design. The understanding of the materials and the processes you work with are a key part of being a designer maker, and in the end, that is a key advantage.