In his work, Jesse Howard (Denver, 1978) stresses the importance of “open design.” He disassembles regular household appliances and utensils, then designs his own versions and posts his technical drawings, as well as the sources of the various components, online.
Howard developed his design philosophy during his course of study at the designLAB of Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietveld Academy. He graduated in 2012 with a set of construction manuals for household appliances—a toaster, a coffee grinder, an electric kettle, and a vacuum cleaner—which he named Transparent Tools. The devices had been made using components available at any local building or kitchen supply store. These were combined with elements that can be reliably printed with 3D printers or milled on computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools at a Fab Lab (a cooperative workshop with computer controlled tools) using free online blueprints. For instance, the switch covers of Howard’s toaster are 3D printed, its sides are milled Corian (a very hard composite material), and the mesh is made of chicken wire.
Howard’s work objective is not to achieve technical innovation or unusual aesthetics, but to return control over the manufacture of everyday appliances to the consumer. The user is thus able to design and produce a device essentially on his/her own, relying on a simple manual without mediation—read: influence—from powerful corporations.
For the time being, the actual manufacture of appliances in this way may seem mostly the domain of dedicated hobby-engineers. However, Howard’s timeless creations mark a first step towards a future in design strategy: a world where manufacturing is more democratic and consumers are actively involved in making, repairing, and modifying their own products.
Jesse Howard is one of the 26 designers and studios that are selected for the group show Dream Out Loud – Designing for Tomorrow’s Demands. The exhibition can be visited from 26 August 2016 in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Read more about the exhibition or order tickets.