The future of handmade design

Humans have been mechanising since prehistory, lightening our workloads, harnessing the forces of nature and performing feats beyond our physical abilities. Today, 100 years after the advent of modernism, technology dominates almost every aspect of life – and while this might seem at odds with handmade crafts, the evolution of both shares a trajectory.

Handmade processes and aesthetics have been returning to design for a decade or so. Mass-produced, machine-made and digitally crafted works have ceded some ground to the imperfect, tactile and subjective qualities of the handmade, and we have found ways to intervene by hand in the more alienating aspects of technology.

Creatively, we have reached something of a watershed. This return to humanistic and tactile sensibilities – a partial reversal of modernism’s sterility and machine-made aesthetic – sits alongside a new wave of technology that places control and ingenuity back in the hands of the individual. In graphics, visual styles based on screenprint, letterpress, papercraft, woodblock print, embroidery and hand-drawn lettering is now a common sight in branding and advertising. Once relegated to a crafty fringe, the handmade aesthetic is now mainstream, and ‘crafting’ pursuits have become big business with the recession bringing out a ‘make-do-and-mend’ spirit.

While this is very much a domestic pastime (think of quilting, baking and knitting), the movement is related to a shift in design practices in response to changes in consumer demand. Provenance, heritage and sustainability are now virtually mandatory aspects of brand development – qualities abundant in the craftsmanship associated with handmade design.

Stefan Sagmeister’s work has been at the vanguard of a humanistic approach to design for more than 15 years. His iconic 1999 poster for an AGIA lecture, for which he carved the textual details into his own body, could not be a more visceral rejection of mechanised design processes. Building, making and shaping components of the graphic end-product by hand is something Sagmeister has explored throughout his career. Why choose such a route?

“With the advent of modernism, everything became machine-made, be it in architecture, products or graphics,” he observes. “This made a lot of sense in the 1920s when there was a need to get rid of ornamentation in order to reflect the cultural climate. As this machine-made ‘objective’ direction has now been the status quo for almost 100 years, a more human, handmade, subjective, natural approach is the more effective way to communicate.”

Carving lettering into your own body is an extreme example, but typography and the visual rendering of words has been following an increasingly handmade path. The digitalisation of design revolutionised graphics in the 90s, and has since given rise to an endless proliferation of new fonts, some of which attempt to mimic handwriting. Meanwhile, the practice of writing by hand in everyday life has become scarce, with typing taking the place of pen and paper.

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The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of eight full-time members of staff: Editor Georgia Coggan, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Ecommerce Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Editor, Digital Art and 3D Ian Dean, Tech Reviews Editor Erlingur Einarsson and Ecommerce Writer Beth Nicholls and Staff Writer Natalie Fear, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.