Subject Report

Experimentation, making, and hands-on modelling

Now the course is over, I can look back and say ‘Making as Thinking’ is a fitting name for this module. Before the industrial revolution, craftspeople made things through long-established traditions learned through extensive apprenticeships (Cross, 2021). In this traditional craft or ‘making’ society, design was integrated into the creation of objects. People planned and designed as part of the creative process: “A potter will make a pot by working directly with the clay, and without first making any sketches or drawings of the pot.” (Cross, 2021, p. 5). In contrast to a design-first approach, we adopted this organic design approach in the ‘making as thinking’ module.

Additionally, experimentation was an important part of all learning modules in ‘Design in an Interdisciplinary World’. I took additional modules in lighting design (outside my main specialism of product design making) and much of this work was experimental. One of the foundations of learning is experimentation and underpins an organic design process. Being told what a sunset looks like, even how it works, is different from playing with how light and shadow interact. Active ‘play’ gave me a more robust understanding of how light works, and I came to realize that this ‘play’ is an important part of the design process.

Technical abilities, computer-aided design and using machinery

In my studies I also learned the extent to which technology has overtaken artists’ drawings in the design process. Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings revolutionized the study and science of anatomy (as cited in Frayline, 1993/4) but they pale in comparison to the knowledge we have today about anatomy due to advancements in technology. Technological advancements have dramatically changed how products are made; mass production has changed the way we design.

This year I refined and developed many technical skills, and these skills will certainly influence my design practice. While we were encouraged to use our hands wherever possible, we also learned about laser cutting, CNC, and 3D printing. Due to the pandemic and restricted access to the lab, most of my learning through projects was limited to using the laser machine, as that’s the one I had experience with in the first few weeks of this course. I used this machine to create my ‘flat’ work in ‘Making as Thinking’, as well as the ‘Shadow & Shade’ project.  In discussions with the workshop technician, I did learn a lot about how CNC machines work. I now understand the differences between 3 and 6-point CNC machines, and how that affects the design. I also learned how to 3D model on CAD to create files for 3D printing. While learning the OnShape software for the creation of 3D models (an activity I undertook as part of my core skills development), I gained a better understanding of the ‘Making as Thinking’ components project. Building each component on the computer and then assembling the components together, I gained a greater appreciation for reducing the number and type of components in a product (which reduces cost). Building one component and using it multiple times in an assembly is easier than building separate components, and quite different from having ready-made components at your disposal to pick and choose from.

Design education during a pandemic

We have all experienced a unique pandemic situation this year. For me, the pandemic meant the design education I received was far from normal. While there are many parts I did not enjoy (and will no doubt reflect on later), I did increase my understanding of, and appreciation for, how product-making happens in many industries today. With so many manufacturing plants located in China, I learned that designers create digital files that are emailed to manufacturers, then wait to see the product that comes back. Discussing my design ideas and plans, then sending files to the workshop technicians through the click and collect service gave me some small insight into how this remote style of design and production feels. It is quite different from the traditional ‘craftsman’ way. I think this increased understanding will influence my design process going forward and it certainly reminded me to appreciate local artisans, craftspeople, technologies, and workshops where in-person, hands-on work can be produced.

Another exciting learning experience this year stemmed from winning the Finalist award from YouFab. This recognition of the potential for a product I designed prompted me to get in touch with an external resource, the Bright Red Triangle. While we could not meet in person, we were able to have virtual consultations. I have started investigating market strategies for my product and have been in touch with engineers who may assist in developing the product. With everyone more used to working through Zoom or Skype, this communication was easier than I expected. I also learned about patents and processes through these meetings. I realize moving forward in the product design industry that it is something I need to investigate more to enhance my skills and understanding if I am to be a freelance product design or working for an employer with commercial interests.

Approach, research and design style

Frayling’s definition of ‘research through design’ is broken into three sections; materials research, development work and action research (Frayling, 1993/4). Throughout this course we have been tasked with documenting our process, including our experiments, making projects and reflections on our work. The combination of learning these techniques through project practice and Frayling’s research position led me to create a design journal to document my minor project (and for other projects in the future). The design journal embodies the idea of ‘action research’ and many design professionals in the industry keep similar journals. The exploration of research through design has also influenced my design aesthetic and style. For example, my minor project, Angeline Furniture, celebrates materials selection and the mechanism in the table design. Current office design industry norms tend towards functionality and sleek modern-looking design aesthetics. Perhaps this tendency is based on the process of sketching a design idea on paper, then handing the design to an engineer to produce the mechanisms. This course pushed my development as a designer but also a maker. This combination of creative, research and making-driven skills that will influence my future work as a designer.


Cross, N., 2021. Engineering Design Methods: Strategies for Product Design (5th ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons..

Frayling, C., 1993/4. Research in art and design. Royal College of Art Research Papers 1, Volume 1, pp. 1-5.