Making Rules, Making Tools: How Can Shape Grammar Support Creative Making?

Maclachlan, Lynne (2018). Making Rules, Making Tools: How Can Shape Grammar Support Creative Making? PhD thesis The Open University.



Design theory has previously studied the practices of architects, industrial designers and engineers. Designer-makers, designers who work independently, designing and making objects with close attention to tools and materials, have not been similarly studied. A renewed interest in craft and making, in part catalysed by new computational and digital fabrication tools at designer’s disposal, strengthens the case for studying successful design-through-making processes. An analogy between rules transforming shapes and tools transforming material provided the initial indication that concepts from shape grammar could be aligned with making processes, to potentially support creative making and deliver new theoretical and applied knowledge for both spheres.

The first part of the thesis examines shape grammar theory as a method of modelling designer-maker creative episodes, to inform designer practice. Evidence was gathered from interviews with designer-makers, observations from a design process carried out by the author and other literature on designer-makers. This evidence was analysed in the context of shape grammar and established creativity literature in order to seek formal descriptions of creative episodes. It was found that designer-makers used tools to define personal and shared design worlds and focussed on and undertook specific activities relating to tools which have been classified; tool selection, tool combination and tool transformation, all of which have creative potential. Tool transformation was found to have further scope for definition and it was found that designers can perform parametric, functional and reformatting transformations on tools to produce new and useful design outcomes. Shape grammar schemas were found to provide useful descriptors for the operations performed by designer-makers on tools.

The second part of the thesis inquires if shape grammar as a design method can support creative computational making, by specifically exploring the use of shape grammar weights, a way of modelling material properties alongside shape operations, as a tool for generating designs for multi-material 3D printing. A number of design reasoning and computational making experiments were carried out and the process and results reported and considered. The outcome is a range of specified weights systems and a general schema for defining and using weights as tool for managing material properties for multi-material 3D printing that can be used and transformed by computational makers. The general weights schema also extends previous theoretical definitions of shape grammar weights. This part of the thesis also demonstrated the importance of tool development and transformation as a basis for creative episodes in design-through-making processes.

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