Digital Tools to Uplift the Native Crafts of India

This Ignite Talk, delivered by Chandni Chhabra and Rudrapalsinh Solanki (student and alumni of Faculty of Design, respectively) won the first position at DigiFab Conference 2018
Guide: Prof. Kireet Patel, Asha Jadeja Motwani
27 April 2018


The DigiFab Conference is an interactive event that invites participants to creatively explore how anyone can change the world using new tools of digital fabrication. DigiFab Conference 2018 was held in Schaumburg, Chicago, Illinois from 27th to 29th March.

The Ignite Talk presented by the CEPT team attempted to present ideas on how digital fabrication can help uplift India’s native crafts. Titled ‘Between Permissible and Variable: An Approach to Understand Role of Digital Tools in Reshaping the Crafts’, it is focused on using digital fabrication as a tool to develop techniques of construction that are an integration of digital fabrication and crafts. As our context suggests that we developed our crafts from the available information surrounding us. 


developed our crafts from the available information surrounding us. 

Advancement in the digital world can be credited to the methods that we have inherited from the world of crafts. The knowledge of various processes of making and their underlying logic attained through crafts is what feeds our development of the digital tools. Each context evolved its own craft by a simple means of developing what was available from the surroundings. Digital fabrication processes have possibilities to shape the world towards a better future. Speaking of digital tools, it is necessary to develop these tools based on the context to make it more sustainable and adaptable for all.

The world today is moving towards a digital future. We are all moving towards ‘the digital era’. A time when automation of design processes, as well as making processes, would replace the ‘hands on’ techniques for good. Redefining the processes of making, can lead us all to a better mechanized future but to move forward and adapt these systems one needs to understand the meaning of ‘Making’ in the process.

The term ‘making’ communicates the word ‘Craft’ that suggests a skill developed for making. As humans, developing this skill of making has always been a core constituent of our progress in today’s world. Digital practices that we use today are also an outcome of our skillfulness.
Advancement towards the digital world has been a resultant of the methods that have been inherited to us through crafts. Logic and understanding of the process of making attained through crafts is what is feeding our development of the digital tools. Each context evolved its own craft by a simple means of developing what was available from the surroundings. Craft did originate from nature. Manifestation of nature and natural elements into our lives has been sustaining us till today.

Craft associates to flexibility of adapting new forms and techniques. It allows permissibility to evolve and transform the existing information using skill of material and material related processes. Terracotta pottery is one such craft that emerged from the available material. It dates back to 2600 to 1700BC in India during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Terracotta clay is clay available from the sedimentary rock formations. The reaction of iron compounds present in the clay with oxygen provides it a reddish tint. The reason that this clay became an important part of the human civilization is it property of becoming porous when fired. The porosity of this clay makes it more functional to keep water at a cool temperature during the heated temperatures of the equatorial regions. Pottery was one of the major crafts during the Middle Ages as the product outcomes of the craft supported the human race with basic amenities for cooking and storing food.

Traditionally, craft has allowed interactions of humans with nature in a homogeneous manner. Nevertheless, the process of maintaining this association with nature has now been reframed with the use of affordable digital computation to extend the capabilities of craft and allow us to explore and understand the complexity of forms in nature. We are now using digital tools to add a variable to the process of making such that it allows emergence of new forms perplexing the available material information. Computation can help us control information related to material, to design and fabricate solutions that are ‘natural’ and allow dynamic and sustainable interactions with the global users. The permissibility of craft has been recomputed by adding a variable through digital tools by allowing to reconnoiter new confines of nature. This association between digital tools and crafts needs to be characterized in a way that resource of knowledge built by the rigorous practice of craft can be fed into the digital tools. Digital technology can be a medium of translating the collected information through crafts to fabricate tangible forms. By using the 80% of the information and allowing a 20% input of the technology can allow us to build up a new vocabulary of the way we understand nature. xx

This algorithm of weightage of digital tools versus knowledge resource built by crafts depends on the context it belongs to. For example, if we consider India as a context for the development of technology, it is necessary to understand the underlying principles of the material available in the context and design digital tools that support this data. For digital tools to be acceptable in a context that has nurtured itself from its environment and cultural developments, it is necessary to design within this available information. A craftsperson today has been striving to involve himself in this digital advancement and try to utilize the knowledge of the craft that he practices to emerge.

Unfortunately, contemporary digital design and fabrication systems have not been able to completely exploit the available computation in the context and develop technology that can be acceptable by all. The globally accepted systems are essentially incompetent of precisely utilizing the contextual data and process it to redefine processes of construction. What needs to be added to this advancement is the information about the users of the products that are a subsequent of the digital materialization.

Digital Materialization is an approach that suggests systematic and symbolic basis for interaction between reality and information. This can be understood by categorizing the user group of the outcomes of the technology into three major categories such as the tech-developer, tech-linguists and technocrats. The tech-developers focus on the processing of the available information into mediums that can translated into the making of these digital tools. The tech-linguists focus on utilizing the development of these tools and allowing implications to be interpreted and modified in different forms. The third category of technocrats, focus on the core idea of making the technology usable and adaptable for all.

It is necessary to portray the information developed and utilized by technology is in a manner that characterizes reality and material information in a dimensionally accurate and meticulous data such that it is accessible to the craftsperson’s understanding, modification and design. Together the collaboration between the tech-developer, tech-linguist, technocrat and the craftsperson can lead to emergence of technology that is acceptable and applicable for all.
In the process of trying to construe these changes it can be challenging not to let the astounding technological aptitudes of the digital tools to dominate the critical understandings and material information of the crafts.

The pace of these technological developments is far beyond the advancement in craft practices of our culture. The current digital possibilities seem limited to supporting the culture of skill and making but collaboration amongst the developers and users can build a strong association between technology and nature.