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Design ± Craft education

Updated: Sep 11, 2018

It was a pleasure to attend the final review of RISD x Tokyo College of Cycle Design summer workshop on August 10. 13 Industrial Design students from Providence US spent 3 weeks in Tokyo to learn how to hand-make a bicycle. I don't remember when was the last time I participated in an actual academic event (an actual college-level class), and how I missed the young and lively creative energy! 13 bike frames were proudly propped up on display, and because they were all customized by the designers, each has distinct design and details. Since they are still in raw metal finish, I would say they look more like sculptural artworks on display.

Aside from the finished products, what makes this workshop unique is putting US-trained designers in a craft-based environment. The opportunity to put in labor-intensive hours in making an intricate object is something being overlooked in our design education. I am curious to hear how this experience have changed (or elevated) the value perception to modern day commodities for these young Industrial Designers.

I remember having great discussions with RISD Professor Khipra Nichols about US design education and young generation designers' perspective in building their creative career path. Having gone through 2 US art & design universities myself and practiced globally in creative agencies and large corporations for years, looking back, I would say my art education had prepped me well in crafting my role as a creative leader driving innovation and pushing creative boundaries. US Art education equipped me with agility, critical analysis and semiotic skills (as a story-teller), user empathy, ability to disrupt, and most importantly, Fearlessness. There isn't a day in my career that I am not using one or more of the above skills. As I mentor my own team, my 2 consistent messages are "Stay curious" and "Don't lose sight of your users".

It was my first time seeing the equipment and shop for bike-making. Super cool eh?

Now that my time is spent mostly in collaborating with "Shokunin" (artisans) in Japan, my learning is artisan-ship is never part of my education in the West. So what is Shokunin? The word literally translates to "craft man". The principle is about mastering the fundamentals (tools and techniques), dedication, discipline, protocol, repetition to perfection, zero-in (focus), apprenticeship and endurance. (Watch Taketombo's artisan stories and you will hear this context being consistently repeated.)

This divergence turns out to be a very interest topic of discussion, and it is not about which is better. Different principles coming together will only spark new ideas and new way of practicing.

I am excited to be introduced to Mizuno Gakuen (Tokyo College of Cycle Design). It is a vocational academy that provides education in Cycle, Jewelry, Shoes and Bags design (plus a new sushi school). Over the conversation with Mr. Hiroshi Sako (Director of Education of Mizuno Gakuen), I was surprised to learn that the approach of this academy may seem vocational (modern-day shokunin training), but the education goal and ambition is rather "out of the box". The school is constantly exploring ways to evolve the program to enrich education. The intention is not to swing the pendulum to become US-style concept-driven design education, but finding the right balance so that students graduating from the program will be properly equipped with the right knowledge to survive the ever-changing and ever-more globalized market. This will maintain Japan designer-makers' competitiveness in the industry. What a refreshing discussion hearing this from an educator in Japan. We will definitely keep this conversation going and see how to drive a new form of vocational education.

Taketombo's goal is to provide a platform and facilitate more dialogs in hope of building new opportunities for the creator-maker community. Let's KEEP GOING!

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