Guest Column: Merging Craftsmanship And Computerized Technology With Haptic Intelligentsia

<p>Netherlands-based designer and researcher Joonghan Lee describes how he gets &#8220;hands-on&#8221; with technology.</p>

Dec 23 2011, 4:02pm

My project Haptic Intelligentsia focuses on the perpetuation and transformation of the "handmade" in modern technology. Analyzing the ubiquitous technology of our daily lives, it is evident that machines have replaced human production and craft in many areas. The pursuit of commodity in industrial production has been accompanied by a lack of sense of "caring," which can easily be communicated via human touch. My objective is to regain the intimate hand-object relationship and find a new process of craft, by embracing the invasion of technology, rather than keeping craft and technology separate.

I have created a haptic force-feedback production process, a coherent balance between hands-on craftsmanship and digital technology. The process omits the screen-based interface—which has been separating the virtual from the physical—and is solely based on tactile stimulation. When invisible digital information is perceived by our sense of touch, we tangibly respond and intuitively materialize into reality.

As a digital object is transformed into the physical by different individuals, each outcome represents an imperfect, yet unique and highly personal, handmade object. This process results in the creation of a human 3-D prototyping machine, which requires more time, manual labor, and a sense of agency—just like any other form of craftsmanship.

In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennett states that machinery is the greatest dilemma confronted by modern artisan craftsmanship because it replaces the work of the human hand. Has the machine been compensating for the comparative imperfection of our handiwork? Or has it been an enemy snatching tasks from us?

This dilemma becomes more apparent through processes of automation and the computerization of the machine, where manual labor no longer seems relevant. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to imagine the world without computerized machines in our daily lives, enabling us to do things more economically. This efficiency-driven process, however, results in our heavy reliance on automated machines, which can accomplish tasks without involving blue-collar workers. We are so caught up in so-called "knowledge work," creating autonomous computer interactions and programming the machines to perform, that we struggle to comprehend how products are manufactured or even how to repair them.

Over the past few years, I have had numerous discussions with friends and colleagues where I have tried to find the dividing line between "hand tools" and machines. Being familiar and proficient in several computer software programs, my personal computer has become a vital tool that flawlessly and efficiently solves my daily tasks. Its user-friendly and forgiving characteristics have led me to become utterly dependent on it. Effortlessly, it creates complex, yet perfect facades of my initial ideas with only a few clicks of the mouse and keyboard. The need to draw a straight-ish line with a graphite pencil quickly disappears.

So then, what's the big fuss? The problem lies within the restriction of only being able to visualize ideas through a computer monitor. As much as software programs offer a speed and accuracy superior to the human hand, the visual outcomes remain intangible and immaterial.

My research challenges the visual dominance of screen-based interfaces in our current society. I argue that sight is not the only way to comprehend what is around us. By bringing what we touch and feel virtually into the physical realm, the idea of craftsmanship is restored to its original sense, opening up a new way of connecting the hand and head. This is a new systematic process that interweaves manual work with "knowledge work."

Joong Han Lee is a Korean-born designer and researcher based in the Netherlands. Lee believes that design should always reflect human nature, in both the present and the future. His work focuses on human-centered design to provoke a dialogue related to human behavior, psychology, and technology. His work ranges from products and spaces to interactive experiences and systems, by questioning the essence of our daily surroundings and their semantics. His work has been featured in such publications as WIRED UK, Dezeen,,, etc.