You may have seen a series of blog posts recently where I started off a bit of a debate regarding the use of Computer Assisted Design (CAD). Part of the issue raised has been as to whether or not using technology to complete a process detracts from craftsmanship.
I would like to change the parameters of the debate slightly to include the T shaped practitioner. There is an idea that being a specialist in any given field limits your creativity, however, when we need to come up with creative solutions for our business challenges, we are often asked to “connect the dots” like Apple’s Steve Jobs and combine unrelated fields to form a “novel solution”.
It is considered normal and indeed beneficial to collaborate with those with specialist knowledge in order to get the job done. However, to come up with a workable solution, we still need to go back to that specialized knowledge. We just do not need to have it ourselves.
Anthony Bibby, in his former role as Creative Director of Tangible, raised the issue in a presentation he gave to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). He told a rather charming story about how he was slightly dismayed that his son was able to get an A for designing a product for his product design class… that did not actually work.
His son’s teacher (and I’m paraphrasing from Anthony’s presentation here) explained: “Don’t worry about his designs, – he’ll learn that sort of stuff on his degree – especially when he gets out on industry placements.” In other words, he would get someone from his father’s generation, with the specialist knowledge, to ultimately get the idea to work.
Many of the comments I have received about the role of CAD in craftsmanship have alluded that you do not need the knowledge of the materials in which you are working in order to create – that you can work collaboratively with those with the specialist knowledge required to make your product. You use this skill at working with others to become a T-shaped practitioner. However, you are still creating a disconnect between you and what you hope to achieve, by allowing someone else (or something else in the case of CAD) to bridge the gap for you. If you view yourself as “the craftsman” in this scenario, what does that make the person plugging the knowledge gap?
Are we using tools such as CAD to build on our own knowledge and expertise or hoping that software will magic up the idea as opposed to working through ideas yourself? Or using others to bridge the gap between our concept and what it actually takes to make it a reality, a process which we often separate ourselves from…? And given this, how much of what is ultimately constructed as the end product can be said to be ours?