Brussels 2010

Design & Craft: A History
of Convergences and Divergences

The seventh ICDHS conference, "Design and Craft: A History of Convergences and Divergences", will bring the relation between design and craft to the fore. This topic was briefly alluded to at the conference in Istanbul as well as at the Finnish edition. The complex relation between design and craft is currently attracting renewed academic interest, as is attested by various publications and exhibitions. The most notable examples are the special issue of the Journal of Design History (Dangerous Liaisons: Relationships between Design, Craft and Art, Vol. 17, no. 3, 2004, co-editors: Grace Lees-Maffei and Linda Sandino), the books "Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life" (Judy Attfield, Berg, 2000) and "Thinking through Craft" (Glenn Adamson, Berg, 2007), the exhibition "Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft" (V&A, London, 2007) and the peer-reviewed academic journal Journal of Modern Craft, published since 2008.

The general theme 'design and craft' offers an excellent opportunity to gather new design historical and theoretical research from over the world in a focused discussion on regional specificities as well as the impact of global processes of industrialisation. If, until now, design history has been largely dominated by the Western narratives of industrialization, then moving the focus towards non-industrial design practice might bring non-Western scholars to the forefront. Moreover, previously marginalized design histories in industrialized countries can finally get a voice.


The relation between design and craft is to be studied from different perspectives.

  1. Historical perspective. In the period after World War I industrial design was considered a "new profession" and almost immediately managed to establish a firm foothold in the economic as well as the cultural field. This led to a shift in the position of craft as it became increasingly detached from the economic domain and much more strongly associated with tradition and folk culture.
  2. Historiographical perspective. The further evolution of design history as an academic discipline has led to the adoption of craft as an area of research, thus making "design" a broader concept in an academic context, corresponding to material culture. The objects of study were no longer manufactured using large-scale industrial processes, an evolution which not only affected the meaning of the word "design" but also concepts such as "decorative arts" or "applied arts".
  3. Theoretical-critical perspective. Apart from the historical methodology the relation between design and craft can also be considered from a philosophical and aesthetic perspective as well as from a design critical viewpoint. The position of the author, the object, the critic and the user/spectator can shed light on the interaction and the differences between design and craft.