Design in Craft A note

Ballyn, John studied Industrial Design at the Central School of Art and Design in London. In the 1960s and early 1970s he worked as an industrial designer for major consumer electronic brands and public transport vehicles in the UK. Since 1973 he has worked providing product design, production technology, packaging and management processes to crafts producers and SMEs in more than 40 countries around the world. He has contributed to training manuals about product design and market development for cultural enterprises. His clients include agencies EU, UN (UNIDO, ILO, ITC), UK and Swiss governments.

October - November 2009, Craft Revival Trust
I am never fed up with being asked to make noises in the field of design in craft development. There are many organisations feverish with activity, reinventing wheels we had used a long time ago and discarded because they did not work or were unacceptable to producers themselves. .

One subject which is very sensitive and would be difficult to address is that of apparent stagnation of ideas for new ways to work with artisans. A generation of indigenous craft support NGOs, (ATOs, FTOs) with whom I worked when they were establishing themselves have now matured. Some of them merely continue with policies and systems developed in the 1970s and 1980s on models established with their customers, the foreign NGO/ATO/FTOs, who were and still are their trading partners. Each NGO has its own philosophical criteria for partnership, some of which exclude artisans from being involved. Some NGOs provide training only in skills which consolidate the relationship between producer and NGO, not developing producer capability for independent operation. Each layer of NGOs adds a percentage to the price of products, reducing competitiveness in the final marketplace. These methods and systems do not necessarily help producers become independent, sustainable or self-sufficient enterprises in either export or domestic market terms. .

The international development agencies, who control the bulk of money available for development, never truly managed to develop coherent policies and strategies for working with artisans. Differences between agencies about which of them was and is responsible for what aspect of craft development have led to both duplication as well as gaps in enterprise management knowledge at recipient level. One agency does training, another marketing, another deals with craft as a cultural issue, yet another tries to become dominant by muscling in on another agency's activity. This is not helpful, and there are those in many countries like India who mutter that their assistance didn't really reach artisans either. .

National craft development agencies are similar, having differing agendas and support roles, some of which are impenetrable to producer and outsider alike. .

Fair Trade is the ideal, but the global trading world is never really going to let it become dominant without a prolonged fight. Meanwhile many artisans will continue to suffer exploitation simply because they have no knowledge of the processes and systems used in international trade. They have not the skills to develop products nor find customers in their own countries. Export marketing is frequently a futile nightmare they would do better to avoid altogether. Yet export business skills can play a role when producers in, say Assam, are trying to find markets in far away Chennai or Mumbai. So many artisan groups rely on middlemen, some of whom are benevolent; but we all know that the word itself has a pariah status among development workers. .

There are new individuals and agencies on the block these days. They are trying to work with artisan groups, experimenting with ways of assisting that do not result in artisans becoming dependent upon them in the long term. These individuals do not necessarily wish to become another one in the layer of NGO/ATO/FTO intermediaries between them and the market. .

They have difficulty in obtaining funding for their projects either because they do not wish to be beholden to the donors' development criteria, or because their proposals/applications are not written electronically in the language or correct format insisted upon by funders. There are private enterprises who fund creative development activity, but I think there is sufficient publicity about private enterprises who are or have been approached successfully with project proposals for crafts. Perhaps there is a need to develop a directory of private individuals and enterprises who see a value in investing in crafts development. Perhaps such a directory exists, I don't know.

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