Wonhee Arndt is an assistant professor, and John Arndt is an associate professor in the Product Design Program in the University of Oregon. We work together in our research and creative practice, and run a design office called ‘studio Gorm’. We have backgrounds in sculpture and traditional craft and bring these material approaches to our design work. In teaching, we emphasize making physical prototypes with our design students. We believe that a greater understanding of how different parts fit together, an understanding of how things work, and knowing how to work with physical materials is essential to design and will improve the quality of the outcome.
John developed and teaches a course called ‘Designers Tools’, it is a sophomore level class where students learn how to approach 3 different materials and their associated production methods, such as wood, plastic, and fabric. We use methods such as: basic workshop machinery, vacuum forming and sewing machines. Students in the course familiarize themselves with a range of production equipment and other resources at the university that helps them to learn to build working prototypes. The goal is to teach students to think with their hands and to learn directly from the materials.
Wonhee developed and teaches a course called ‘Experimental Materials Lab’. It is a course where students learn and understand materials through physical experimentation in order to find the right applications, and appropriate production methods. Each course focuses on understanding and experimenting with materials, where students need to develop their own processes to work with materials to produce products. In this course we work with new materials or develop new ways of using traditional materials, or recycling undervalued materials.
In our research and creative practice, we build physical prototypes in various iterations to test and find the best solutions to a variety of concepts. Our work strongly focuses on appropriate technology, and forgotten technology and low-tech solutions to create new contemporary design objects. This requires us to do a lot of physical experimentation with materials and appropriate forms.
We designed and built ‘Flow2 kitchen’. Flow2 is a living kitchen where nature and technology are integrated in a symbiotic relationship, and processes flow into one another in a natural cycle, efficiently utilizing energy, waste, water and other natural resources. It provides a space not only for preparing food but an environment that gives a better understanding of how natural processes work. The products in the kitchen can be used independently but are far more effective when they work as a system. Variety of materials and their associated processes are used to fabricate a working kitchen and kitchen objects, such as; earthenware ceramic, enameled steel, wood structure, bent sheet metal and steel rods. The kitchen introduces simple and low-tech solutions from other parts of the world, or forgotten technology that is smart and relevant to contemporary lifestyles. All of the materials are chosen for the inherent properties that are intrinsic to the function of the object.
We designed a ‘Wooden watch’. The goal was to design a timepiece using a timeless material. The challenge was to come up with an appropriate form for the materials and to fit the precision watch movement into the wooden casing. We used 3D CAD software to model the watch body, and used a CNC router to mill the wood prototype. A laser cutter was used to engrave the watch face design on the CNC routed wooden body.
We like to use a combination of digital tools and basic workshop machines to physically visualize ideas. We use 3D modeling software (Rhino) to digitally model the design, then use the 3D data to produce a physical prototype using CNC routers, laser cutters, 3D printing and hand tools. Digital tools like 3D software and CNC routers allow for the building of complicated geometries that are not always easy to prototype. Basic workshop machines are also used in conjunction with digital tools to implement ideas that require simpler production processes or handwork.
Quite often, outside fabricators are needed for specialty parts, or when there is not the production capability at the university. Challenges include sourcing specialty materials that are not available locally, and finding the right facility or resources to prototype parts. Local sourcing and consulting in person helps to locate appropriate solutions to production and fabrication problems. It is helpful to find online communities, social media or websites where makers share their knowledge or demonstrate a skill so that you can selectively choose solutions that are specific to your concerns, and also ask for insight from the larger community.
Maker culture is a global community of individual makers who make their own solutions to problems, and have the advantage of a global digital platform to share their ideas, learn from others, and inform each other’s ideas. Makers are interested in traditional crafts and new technology. They believe in sharing their ideas, work and knowledge with others, and foster the development of new innovations through the exploration of new technologies and materials.
Making culture has always been a part of the University of Oregon’s DNA. Studio based learning and a hands-on approach is integral to our curriculum. The introduction of digital fabrication tools on campus enables us to make more sophisticated projects, bringing enthusiasm to the community, and also industry sponsorship to the campus.
Physically seeing and understanding how faculty, students, and researchers from various fields solve problems in different ways inspires interdisciplinary research and teaching collaborations, and creates unexpected and innovative solutions to complex challenges.
By nurturing a community of people who understand how to make and how things work builds a pool of thinkers to focus on potential solutions to immediate challenges, whether local or global. This creates a community that is hardwired to look for solutions rather than expect others to solve problems for them.
The University provides an environment where students, faculty and researchers can work on problems that are difficult for industry or individuals to address. It is part of our academic culture to share innovative research, expertise, and knowledge in various fields with students and the community. An open source approach to problem solving that aligns with maker culture allows many individuals to contribute solutions to big problems, building off of the knowledge and contributions of others.
Testing conceptual research problems through physical prototypes, and the process of making requires a lot of time and resources. However, physically making helps to understand problems and find solutions more effectively. Physical objects are a great tool to communicate ideas, and a persuasive way to engage with the larger community. New Tools, Technology and materials are expensive, and require more space and support than other academic inquiries require. Sustaining these higher costs and remaining current with new technology is often a large hurdle.
In the 21st century, the realization of ideas is time sensitive. There is a flood of information that is easier to access then ever. While we are bombarded with digital imagery and information, the sense of touch is even more relevant. Objects are powerful tools for communicating ideas.
Understanding how to make things with your hands, and with digital tools, gives students the ability to address the problems around them. They are no longer just consumers of culture but they develop the faculties to create and contribute to culture.
Digital fabrication tools allow for a faster and more accurate realization of ideas. It allows for production to be more localized and customizable to individual needs, rather than mass-produced, generalist solutions from another location that may not be as communicative or adaptive to current needs. It is important to teach students this cultural shift, and give them relevant skills that will allow them to succeed in any environment.
Join a club and take classes to gather shared knowledge and improve your skills. Get your hands dirty, and learn from the materials and processes as well as people with experience. Also, share what you learn with others.