Crafting in Industry

Plymouth College of Art in association with the School of Material, The Royal College of Art. Convened by Peter Oakley, Research Leader (School of Material), The Royal College of Art, UK.

Crafting in Industry (selling out or buying in?):

The modern notion of craft that developed during the nineteenth century, and held sway throughout the twentieth, relied heavily on an opposition to industrial mass production1. We now live in a new and more complex set of circumstances, where the dominance of mass production, and mass consumption, of limited ranges of identical goods has been usurped by ever more diversity in the types of objects both available and desired. The realisation of this materially-based social differentiation has been facilitated by cumulative changes in the manufacturing sector. One obvious aspect is the adoption of new technologies. Over recent decades, novel digital production processes have made more extreme objects not only possible, but also much less expensive, to produce2. This expansion of manufacturing possibilities has occurred alongside fundamental changes in the way commercial manufacturing is structured: the monolithic assembly line, static product range, and conventional fixed 'bricks and mortar' points of sale are no longer ubiquitous; flexibility in production, distribution and retailing strategies are now the order of the day3. Over the same period, the process by which new product lines come into existence has also been disrupted. The idea that the professional designer is the undisputed lynchpin of innovation is under attack by the material scientist on one hand4 and co-design on the other5. These changes on the supply side are intertwined with the democratisation of luxury as a social force. Goods once assumed to be restricted to a limited wealthy clientele are now aspired to by a much larger segment of the population6. Today, limited run and bespoke, customised goods are being eagerly sought after by many customers as marks of social distinction.

So where in this brave new world does crafting reside? As Adamson noted, the ideals and expectations of the craft movement never lined up with reality. In many cases, practices we would now class as crafting activities were more frequently found in the industrial factory than outside it, and many craft skills reached a pitch of excellence within industry well beyond that evidenced outside of it. Today, as mass-production in the classic sense becomes obsolescent, craft skills are once again being publicly celebrated, but only in limited contexts. Sennett’s definition7 is not yet the widespread public perspective, nor the one commercial manufacturers are keen to promote. Rather than intelligent manual making that is engaged with real world issues, it is the romantic ‘Arts and Crafts’ notion of crafting as timeless expertise, far removed from economically sustainable production, that is typically being referenced in mainstream advertising campaigns8.

This Making Futures workshop will explore the current condition of crafting in industry. We are seeking participants who want to critically examine any or all of the issues described above. This may be done through: case studies (both contemporary and historic); critical descriptions of personal experiences of working as professional craft practitioners in or with industry; comparative studies of related industrial practices, expectations and aspirations. Without aiming to reach a settled consensus, the intention is to consider how far the new theoretical approaches to crafting are borne out by craft practitioners' and academic researchers' actual experiences, observations and analysis of specific situations, as well as identifying some of the emerging new roles of crafting in industry. 


  1. Adamson, G., 2013. The Invention of Craft. London: Bloomsbury.
  2. MaDE (2007) ‘Rapid Manufacturing: new possibilities for materials and design’, Essays to accompany the MaDE workshop presented by the Royal College of Art at the Materials KTN Annual Meeting, 24 April 2007. London: Royal College of Art.
  3. Chryssolouris, G., et al 2009. ‘Digital manufacturing: history, perspectives, and outlook’. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Part B Journal of Engineering Manufacture Vol.223 No.5: pp451-462
  4. Küchler, S. and Oakley, P., 2014. ‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material world’. In: Penny Harvey et al eds., Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. London and New York: Routledge.
  5. Prahalad, C.K. & Venkat Ramaswamy, V., 2004. The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers. Harvard Business Review Press.
  6. Featherstone, M. 2014. Luxury, consumer culture and Sumptuary Dynamics. Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption. Vol.1 No.1. pp47-69.
  7. Sennett, R. 2008. The Craftsman. London: Allen Lane.
  8. Passariello, c., 2010. ‘U.K. Bans Two Vuitton Ads’. Wall Street Journal. May 27 2010. . Accessed 21/12/16.