Reflecting on the Inaugural Design & Development Masterclass

One of my concerns when devising the inaugural Design and Development Masterclass was “how deep do we go”? Design theory can get pretty esoteric. Woodworkers are a practical lot and there is a point at which they might start to glaze over. The class was made up of woodworking enthusiasts with little or no design theory and professional makers who had considerable training. How were we going to meet everyone’s expectations?

To compound my concerns, I had never actually met, let alone worked with Adam Rogers. We had corresponded a lot and we had talked about the course structure, but it was still a leap into the unknown. I picked Adam up from the airport on Saturday morning and by Monday morning we were teaching. 

Steve really found his stride on Thursday afternoon. By Friday, his head was full of creative ideas. Image by Adam McGrath of Hcreations.

We got off to a solid start and it was clear that we had a great group on our hands. I had invited a few guests to participate on day one, including David MacLaren from the Bungendore Woodworks Gallery, Stuart and Carol Faulkner from Heartwood Creative and Myles Gostellow, a local designer maker. We covered a lot of ground and shared a lot of relevant experiences, but it was not until the morning of day 3 that the course really “clicked”. Jeremy, a student who had trained extensively at the Centre for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine asked us to go as “deep into design theory as we can”. He didn’t feel that we had really drilled down yet. With some trepidation, Adam Rogers pulled out a lecture that he had previously given to Interdisciplinary design students at the Rochester Institute of Design. With the warning that “this gets pretty abstract” he launched into a detailed history of design theory. The students loved it. It pulled together everything that we had been talking about and set up a framework for the rest of the course.

The most interesting journey to watch was Steve from the North Coast. Steve is a woodworking enthusiast who loves making things. He knew what he liked, but he had no tools to analyze why he liked it. Steve had put all his energy into understanding technique and process rather than form. This is perfectly understandable, because the woodworking media/industry is heavy on “how” and light on “why”. By Friday, Adam and I could see that Steve was seeing woodwork in a totally new light. His design (a small hall table for his daughter-in-law) had gone from being constrained by the limitations of a small space to a celebration of that small space.

Jeremy, seen here talking to Adam Rogers, urged us to "go deep" with design theory. Image by Adam McGrath of Hcreations

After the course, Steve sent us an email which in part read “I thank you both for helping “an older person” awaken his creative side, by showing what is possible and how to go about making things of beauty.”

Jeremy, Mark and Warwick are all professional makers with solid training, good workshops and an existing client base. These makers had some solid designs behind them. They were all seeking to expand their businesses through a more nuanced understanding of the design process. They were also looking for some outside stimulation. Woodworking can be a lonely profession.

There is no “universal answer” to becoming a successful furniture designer/maker, but Adam and I have both been around the block and we were able to share some of our experiences and strategies.

After the course Warwick wrote;

Gentlemen, right off the top can I say that I thoroughly enjoyed the course. I personally got a lot out of the entire week and really enjoyed listening to both of your stories, processes and experiences. Were my expectations met; yes. Did I feel like I received value for money; yes. Would I do it again; yes. Congratulations to the both of you for the vision, hard work and commitment to the industry.”

It’s a long haul and a big time commitment for Adam to get here, with a bus trip to Boston, then a flight via Los Angeles to Sydney and a car trip to Queanbeyan. I thought he might have to give it a bit of thought before he’d agree to come again. I was wrong. He said yes immediately.

Adam and I look forward to running another Design & Development Masterclass. We’ll see you in October 2020.