Craft Vs. Design

Written by marie-pier rochon
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Craft Vs. Design
Telling the difference between craft and design isn't always obvious. (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Some see craft as ancient forms of creating everyday objects through old arts--such as knitting, crochet, pottery, quilt-making and sewing--and others understand design to be concerned with graphics, interior decoration, architecture and fashion. However, a close look at their definitions and the studies that aim to differentiate the terms show that the similarities and differences are not easily identifiable and not necessarily opposed from each other.

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Originally derived from the term "crseft," the current meaning of craft is defined by the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: "Since crafts include all activities that produce or modify objects by manual means, with or without the use of mechanical aids, such as looms or potters' wheels, the range of study is very broad." The word craft is both a noun in the sense that it describes a specific activity as defined previously, and it also is a verb in the sense that it defines the actions of taking part in that activity. Additionally, it is also said that craft has a second definition which is synonymous with "guild," meaning that it can be used to define a class or role of a person. From there comes the term "craftsmen."


Similar to the word "craft," the word "design" is both a noun and a verb that have similar definitions, yet different functions. As a noun, the Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English defines design as "a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made." In other words, a design is the blueprint for an object, a product or a process. In contrast, as a verb, design is defined as "to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan" according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. While the verb defines the actions that lead towards the creation of a plan, the noun is the product of that action. University of Technology, Sydney, Ph.D. student Emily Howes studied the relationship between design and craft. When asked to define design, she considers it as "a process of conceiving, refining and fabricating a blueprint for something material or visual, like an object, building, graphic etc."


When looking at both definitions, we can see that craft and design are both processes and products. Both design and craft are actions that lead to the creation of either an object or a plan. Also, both design and craft are concerned with visuals, the beauty of the final products and their functionality.


While design's main aim is to solve a problem and create a product that is useful, art gallery owner D. Scott Patria argues that craft objects are not always utilitarian and that they merely make reference to a function but are not usable objects, such as is the case of a decorative teapot or a hung quilt, for example. Howes further adds to this by saying indie craft is defined as a "subcultural, amateur handicraft revival where traditional skills are twisted for a contemporary context" and "the indie craft movement can reclaim craft as a tool for empowerment rather than oppression." In other words, crafted products can have a meaning or message being their creation that goes beyond function, making them art objects rather that products, which is what design created.

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