Standardisation, less is more

Individuality, decoration

Industrialisation also leads to standardisation. Nonetheless, this does not mean that coincidence, individuality or handiwork have to be completely excluded from the process. The production chain can for example be opened up at a certain point to manual contribution and leave an individual trace on the final product. (16) Coincidence and uniqueness can also be built in by devising systems that make product differentiation possible. The Italian designer Gaetano Pesce has developed a technique that links mass production to individual variation – and he knows why he is doing this: ‘In the future customers will expect original objects. What I call the third industrial revolution will give people the opportunity to have a unique piece; the technology we have today gives us the possibility to produce in this way. Materials too. It is very much like what the artisans of the past achieved. But at the same time, it reflects the spirit of our time, where everything is relative.’ (17)

Coincidence and uniqueness are also at work in Repeat (2002), the fabric designed by Hella Jongerius for the textiles firm Maharam. In this project, Jongerius has combined her own design philosophy with production on an industrial scale. Repeat is a fabric design with a three-metre repeat that uses existing fabric designs and technical codings from the weaving industry. As a result of the large repeat, the upholstery can deliver an individual product each time because the upholstery has no repeat in design or the repetition is not noticeable. ‘You have an industrial product that looks like it’s been woven specially for you’, explains the designer. It offers the industry new possibilities that are clearly recognised by Mary Murphy, vice president of design at Maharam. ‘It’s a totally revolutionary way to look at textiles, one that really challenges how the furniture industry uses fabrics.’ (18) ‘Future craft’ is how Ilse Crawford describes this manipulation of production techniques in order to make industrialised unique products. (19) Here too, the computer can be useful. By programming the software in such a way that the industrial machines randomly apply patterns to the product, mass production delivers unique pieces. For example, Michael Young makes use of this in Tölt, a series of tables with a Corian top which is irregularly perforated, designed for the Belgian company Extremis. Decoration is immediately back again and, with it, the possibility of tradition and history. (20)

However, the movement can also be reversed. Industrial designers with an interest in decoration and cultural identity can easily cope with traditional techniques which they then appropriate in an innovative way. This legacy is not sought based on nostalgia, but on an urge to experiment. Knotting, crocheting, knitting, weaving and embroidering are often techniques that allow craft and industrial design to merge into one.

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