This collaborative design research project uses speculative critical making to create miniature dioaramas of utopian maker spaces to re-examine field work in fab labs, makerspaces, hacklabs, hackerspaces and DIYbio labs in a new way, thinking through their narratives, visions, discourses, utopias and anti-utopias.

Makers and hackers encourage others to actively participate in locally relevant and socially good design and production. Their narratives envision replacing empty consumerism with more empowering, creative, circular, democratic and community-based production in shared workshops, according to local needs, materials and resources. Nevertheless, maker culture is often seen as techno-utopian, and even the solarpunk visions and experiments by ecologically oriented maker communities are seen as too little in the face of climate crisis, hypercapitalism and the sixth mass extinction. In this project we explore the material, aesthetic, technical and conceptual dimensions of maker culture futures, through the creation of miniature dioramas.

The project is a collaboration between the Umeå Institute of Design (UID) and the Department of Creative Studies, including a collaboration between workshops (Sloydlab and UID’s Interaction Lab), and an exploration of craft making and speculative design as research. Research partners include: Cindy Kohtala, Professor of Design for Sustainability, UID; Rickard Åström, Research engineer, Interaction Lab, Umeå Institute of Design; Sara Rylander, Lecturer, Sloydlab, Department of Creative Studies; Magnus Wink, universitetsadjunkt, Sloydlab, Department of Creative Studies.

‘Pushing the limits of craft’ explores the possibilities and challenges that exist between the intersection of traditional sloyd/craft and digital design, between hi-tech and low-tech making. By combining traditional and cultural woodcraft with digital laser cutting tools for design, the project aims to expand and explore the possibilities of expressing oneself through craft.

Sloyd can be considered a system of craft education and is taught as a compulsory subject in Finnish, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian schools. In this regard, Nordic sloyd traditions embody a form of cultural heritage encompassing specific materials and techniques. The research addresses the potential loss of this cultural identity which is both imminent and preventable.

The tradition of sloyd emerges from intuitive work between the creator and the material, as form of tacit knowledge, which evolves with new tools overtime whilst maintaining cultural traditions. Rylander is interested in the potential role and significance of digital tools in craft practice, both in terms of new aesthetic possibilities and how the creative use of these tools challenges the concept of the ‘handmade’.

The project will be presented at the Relate North Conference at Umeå University 2023.