Carnegie Mellon University
maryt1_Masters_Design_2019.pdf (73.74 MB)

Making Mistakes: Error as Emergent Property in Craft Practice

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posted on 2019-07-10, 18:18 authored by Mary TsaiMary Tsai
This thesis reframes error as a collaborator to develop form in analog and digital craft practices. When evaluating David Pye’s Maker Theory regarding the Workmanship of Risk and Certainty, makers and designers can have a very specific perspective of the role of digital technology in craft. With the use of Computer Numerically Controlled machining becoming more prevalent in today’s creative fields, it is important to understand the relationship that designers have with the tools they are using to produce their objects. When utilizing computational technology, a designer can create conditions for emergent properties to occur through error, which ultimately lead to developing a mindset that views the potential in giving agency to the machine. This evaluation of error is set against the trajectory in which design and technology are situated – a future that aims to eliminate failure or imperfection through technology, as well as a concentration on increasing levels of accuracy.

This framework of utilizing error as a collaborator can be a potential way to accelerate the discovery and exploratory process of a design. The projects conducted in this thesis establish several key findings about error and its creative capability. First, in order to be aware of the potential that mistakes can bring, one must adopt a mindset to not prematurely judge error as something negative. Next, there will be an aspect of vulnerability and letting go of control that many designers have a difficult time doing. Additionally, it is important to differentiate from the “happy accident” — projects conducted in this framework are an intentional effort to cause an error in order to see what unpredictable things might happen. Finally, in the realm of digital craft, the machine must be given agency or have its “personality” shine through error. The result of this collaboration between the designer and the machine is a record of the interaction that occurred.




Degree Type

  • Master's Thesis


  • Design

Degree Name

  • Master of Design (MDes)


Jonathan Chapman Mark Baskinger

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