Hybridity as a Culture of Making

Hybridity as a Culture of Making

Maya Ober and Nicole Schneider: FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel


Using an experimental design course directed at industrial design undergraduate students as a study case, this study explores what new approaches towards design education can be applied to foster a contextually based practice within a post-industrial context. Understanding design as a fundamental trait of being human and a key factor influencing the quality of life the authors argue for design education informed by both practical and theoretical research to encourage cultural hybridity. Design education in the post industrial era poses multiple challenges, in particular within the industrial design field, that has been in a 
turning point for decades and is in the ongoing process of defining itself a new
 amid rapid technological, environmental and societal changes. Within this context,
 design education must move beyond skills-based one and service-oriented, in
 which the role of the designer is mainly defined as problem-solver, towards a more 
manifold approach, fostering a contextualized practice.
»The culture of making» course explores the notion of cultural hybrid, through
 hands-on research of materiality, tactility and fabrication processes, going beyond
 the generic understanding of what “making” and just “experimenting” means.

Instead, it focuses on cultural narratives embedded in processes, materials and
their visual, formal, utilitarian manifestations as products of industrial design. In
 this context, the emphasis of the course was on hybridity, applying advanced 
digital manufacturing methods and the transformation of traditional production
 modes, to create culturally and technologically determined trans-local artefacts.
 The developed design method applied in the teaching process separates material
 and processing method, by the unorthodox pairing of ubiquitous materials (metal,
wood, clay etc.) with action verbs (baking, blowing, weaving, melting etc.). The
 term “sawing wood” for example implies a clear image of the material and 
processing/treatment of the surface, without the students having ever had sawed
 wood themselves. This tacit knowledge is based on memories, experiences, and
 personal value systems. In contrast, the term “knitting
wood” cannot be assigned to a stereotype. It has to be interpreted through a
 process or reframing.

This approach allows students to avoid their processes 
becoming restricted by culturally conditioned or stereotyped strategies during
 experimental phases. Working with digital production modes played an important
 role in the process, as with the help of computer-aided design and production, we
can radically question the basic typologies that have emerged in the history of
design and work with new ingredients. Therefore, we envision the hybridity as a
culture of making, being a process of binding categories together, instead of
emphasising the differences.
 Conclusions – why is there a need for new methods?
Traditional design methods focus purely on solving pre-defined problems, leaving
some possibilities unexplored, and limit design practice. We argue that methods
focusing on the strategic role of experimentation in the design process, informed
 by theory, history and research, open up alternatives to the solutionist understanding of design and foster innovation, outside of the established 

Within our course, we create an environment in which students can
explore their respective cultural identities, their memories, their experiences, their
 backgrounds not on a theoretical level, but on a practical one. Offering a space
that merges theory and practice, examines to what extent design research 
conducted parallel with practical hands-on one makes it possible to scrutinise
 projects regarding their historical, social, and technological dimensions, thereby
 supporting the development of the concept and the making of design decisions.
Within the course, we analyzed how instead of separating design history from
 design theory and research from praxis, choosing an integrated educational
 approach extends product development through varied dimensions and
 perspectives, opening up a forum for discussion on the future of design.

Themes: Design Education / Design pedagogy / Educational innovation in artistic
matters / Design, sustainability and social responsibility

Keywords: Design Education, Manufacturing, Design Research, Hybridity, Design


Maya Ober is an educator, researcher and designer, working as a research
associate at the Institute of Industrial Design, and as a lecturer at the Institute of
 Aesthetic Practice and Theory at the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel.

Nicole Schneider is a product designer, deputy head at the Institute of Industrial
Design and co-head Masterstudio Industrial Design at the FHNW Academy of Arts
and Design in Basel.