Designing without a Designer: A Case Study of Decision-making in Banarasi Toys

By Koumudi Patil.

Published by The International Journal of Designed Objects

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online September 10, 2015 $US5.00

As an alternative to the overwhelming emphasis on the individual designer, this study throws light on how multiple Banarasi craftspeople making multiple parts of an artifact produce, learn and evaluate in the lack of a single vision or leader and yet achieve coherency. The Banarasi craftspeople follow a participatory method of producing a “Khilona” (toy), where different groups are informally formed through knowledge of skill, proximity and familiarity for every order. Every craftsperson produces only a part of the artifact, allowing others to continue shaping the “Khilona” while complementing the preceding changes. Division of work here is based on skills that have a long learning trajectory, involve decision-making, and are meaningful, contextually adaptable to every artifact and not replaceable on a short notice. Such leaderless change by multiple members in the absence of explicit co-ordination reflects a mutual agreement on what an artifact should be; how it should be made, used and disposed in the community. Thus, the shared worldview of the members shapes and is shaped by the “Khilonas.” Unlike the design belief that knowledge should be “protected,” in Banarasi craft knowledge is learned, assessed, preserved and disseminated largely through emulation. An apprentice emulates a craftsperson for training whereas a craftsperson emulates his peers for up-gradation. When a master teaches an apprentice the skill of making a craft, the transfer of knowledge is limited to the known number of artifacts in the community. It is by emulating particular artifacts, that the apprentice learns the general principle and rules behind the practice. Therefore, in Banarasi craft, skill is learned through an artifact. Due to division of work, skill lies in making the part whereas innovation lies in making the whole which is completed by multiple members. In the process, design decisions are taken on the floor of the factory itself rather than on a drawing board. Such thinking enabled production increases the scope of skills from that of the hand alone to a habit of action complemented by the mind.

Keywords: “Khilona,” Emulation, Participatory, Thinking-enabled Production

The International Journal of Designed Objects, Volume 9, Issue 3, September, 2015, pp.1-17. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online September 10, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.016MB)).

Koumudi Patil

Assistant Professor, Design Programme and Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India