In recent years, young designers have benefitted from incredible possibilities, far beyond simply doing things faster and more efficiently. Digital technologies for manufacturing have cultivated a risk-free environment, where machines can be viewed not only as tools, but also as partners in the creative process. Every day, young creatives worldwide explore this paradigm and they seem to shift focus from designing the final outcome, to instead, designing the process that will determine the outcome. In the arts, this is the case of the so-called ‘generative art’ wave. Pieces of process – often strings of code – are created then set in motion with a certain degree of autonomy which contributes to the end result.
There are many ways to embrace machines as a part of the creative team. One is the playful approach, where the designer engineers the process - including system errors - then enjoys the spontaneous effect of the machine responding to the confusing input; a method explored by Mark Laban, a Central Saint Martins graduate.
Mark is interested in the immersive design process and the idea of approaching wood-making in a ‘plug-and-play’ context. With a background in Fine Arts, Mark was inspired to embrace woodwork by figures like Sebastian Cox, seen as an example of 'modern craftsman'.
His series comprises of benches and stools inspired by antique Japanese woodcarving techniques which are then exposed to digital fabrication techniques. He enjoys the immersive process and the intuitive element - the idea that you can 'launch' the carving pressing a button, but then you can always intervene and edit as you go. Thus creating a continuous exchange with the machine. To give a level of near-total control to the machine is a form of liberation that allows for unexpected outcomes to occur, without reducing a designer's 'creative authority'. It is difficult for him to name such relationship, but he makes an interesting point questioning what 'mastering the technique' can mean in such a context. The result is a hybrid aesthetic that suggests both the eternity of wood and the styling codes of contemporary digital culture.
Welcoming machines as part of the design process could be fun - as long as they do not surpass our progress. We want them to do things for us – influence the project, even surprise us – but not to fully design for us. We do not seem to want machines to become designers. But isn't that inevitable? What does 'designer' even mean in 2016?