Ceramicists and scientists
Mixing technology and craft
A new report from the Crafts Council shows how collaboration between contemporary makers and scientists, engineers and technologists, can help produce new scientific advances. So should all labs have a maker?
Crafting Capital: New technologies, new economies talks about makers (the contemporary word for craftspeople) bringing three things to these projects.
Thinking style, human connection and skills
First, a new thinking style. “Creative idea generation, flexible thinking and risk-taking complement
scientific thinking with its focus on investigation of known problems.” In other words, they think differently to scientists.
Second, a human element. Makers have a different relationship to their clients (and the rest of society) in part because the work they create is often bespoke and produced on demand. And this helps them connect abstract science with the needs of the real world.
A good example of this is the work of Matt Durran in the development of technology that allowed the world’s first tissue engineered organ transplant earlier this year. Glass maker Durran created moulds for the tissue that could withstand the heat of a bio-reactor that was need to forge it. And his moulds are now being used to develop tissue engineered noses and other organs.
The report talks about five innovations like these - in biotechnology, engineering, materials science, manufacturing and digital & communications technology - that show the value added to these collaborations by makers.
Why not a designer?
But this doesn’t yet prove why you would want a maker in the lab - would you get a better result with them, or with a designer, an artist, a management consultant, for instance? This is the holy grail of the creative industries & innovation argument that no one has solved.
The report does give some hints. Drawing on sociologist Richard Sennett, it talks about the ‘reflection-in-action,’ specific to craft thinking. This apparently “enables innovation by working with – rather than against – the restrictions of a given situation.
In this analysis, craft thinking applies both to engineering and to team working”. This role of maker as “sociable expert” is interesting, but we'll need stronger evidence before scientists start crying out for ceramicists.