Monthly Archives: October 2010

Shaping Our Future with Bamboo

Following are slides of my presentation for TEDxBandung, October 24, 2010. You’re very welcome to leave responses and comments 🙂

I am trained as an Industrial Designer, in Indonesia and in The Netherlands. But what does it mean to be one? What do industrial designers do? What are they?Among the first references I had about the profession is an opinion from Packard (1970), an American sociologist who criticized industrial designers as “waste makers”, since they kept designing and producing stuff with ‘limited’ durability (planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence) in order to keep the production wheels going. What happen to these products, once they are disposed of, is ending up in a landfill. Hence the term “waste makers”.    Next to Packard, Papanek (1972) said in his book that industrial designer is the 2nd most dangerous profession in the world, due to its ability to create ‘waste’ in magnificent amount within a relatively short period. Moreover, designed products are mainly aimed at people who can afford them, while there is actually a ‘real world’, where the majority of the world population needs appropriate tools and artifacts.      Keeping those two references in mind, I’d like to tell a bit about Industrial Design as a formal education in Indonesia. It was established in 1972 within the Faculty of Arts and Design of Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB), a faculty that actually started as a school for drawing teachers under the colonial government who built ITB in 1920.

Predecessors of Indonesian industrial designers gained their knowledge from USA, Denmark, Germany, and other developed, industrial countries. Therefore our curriculum has been similar to the demand of industries in those countries, where students are prepared to face the world of mass-manufacture of industrial products.      Therefore, what we learn include aesthetics and art histories, technical drawings and ergonomics, basic mechanics and physics; where all design projects are virtually directed to the creation of artifacts in a mass-manufacture setting. Our graduates have been working in various levels of industry, but the amount of students and fresh graduates increases over time. Can industries in Indonesia accommodate all of them? How well are they received in the professional field?      Let’s first take a look at the majority of industry in Indonesia. What we see around here every day is a reflection of the level of industry we have in general: street vendors in a variety of fields (food and beverage, repair services, etc.) Manufacture industries are mostly licensed, where local/Indonesian industrial designers don’t have any significant role.  

If we want to look at figures, we can see from this pyramid that contains the levels of industry: small-scale, middle-scale and big-scale industries. The pyramid would look good if the components are balanced.

Now let’s put in the figures for industries in Indonesia. The big-scale industries cover almost 5% while the middle-scale industries add up to not even one percent(!). The small-scale industries, which includes also the ‘informal sectors’, mounts to almost 95% of the whole industries in Indonesia.

It’s obvious that our industry pyramid is not quite proportional. The middle-scale is almost non-existent, while the small-scale is in abundance.

Our challenge now is to upgrade the small- into the middle-scale industries. How do we do that? What I’m proposing here is within my capacity as an Indonesian industrial designer. Here it is: Application of Hybrid Methods in Bamboo Product Industry

The first question is, Why Bamboo? It is indigenous to Indonesia, 11% of 1,500 species in the world grows all over the archipelago, placing bamboo among the most abundant natural resources in Indonesia.

Moreover, it grows rapidly and matures within 3 to 5  years. Its strength has been proven from its use as a building and construction material for centuries, next to being the main material for crafts and daily utilities. Producing bamboo products and utensils, which used to be an activity to past the time, gradually became an activity to generate an extra income once the rice fields and plantations are not able to provide sufficient income.          

Craftsmen such as these ones mainly live in rural areas, working in the traditional method for producing traditional bamboo products. The results are products we commonly see, woven and tied, for household or kitchen purposes, if not furniture and other domestic elements.  

Meanwhile, engineers and scientists have also been developing various treatments in order to achieve optimum physical qualities of bamboo material, including preservation and prefabrication.   

These two different production methods, traditional and advanced, are known in Indonesia.

The Traditional Method produces traditional bamboo products, using raw bamboo materials and applying traditional techniques such as weaving and tying. The designs of the products remain similar to their original forms. These products are adequate to fulfill the local markets, but in competitions with global market, they would be compared to traditional products from other countries with great similarities. These products are often purchased for their ‘exotic’ images.

The Advanced Method hardly employs traditional techniques but uses advanced tools and machinery in the production process, resulting commonly in bamboo boards. Further processes result in bamboo products based on the laminated bamboo boards and/or forming or bending of bamboo strips. The designs of products as a result from this advanced method are new. This method is suitable for places with proper bamboo propagation for industrial purposes that ensures the raw material supply, and that are able to afford, produce, operate and maintain advanced machinery.       

Both the Traditional and Advanced Methods exist in Indonesia. However, there is a gap between the two methods, mainly in the production process and the bamboo products as the result. The traditional products can hardly compete with similar products from other countries, while the advanced products are not feasible in the near future, considering the complexity of the whole system. How do we fill the gap?         

With Hybrid Method.

Hybrid Method combines Traditional and Advanced Methods, which is labor intensive, includes Research & Development phase, and results in contemporary bamboo products. It still employs traditional methods up to some extend, especially relying upon high craftsmanship, and uses simple tools and machinery in the process in order to improve the material qualities.

Hybrid Method in general consists of three levels: modified-traditional, combination, and adaptive-advanced, depending on the proportion of methods used in the process. Here is an early mapping of bamboo products that are produced within the levels of hybrid method. It is obvious that there are a lot of opportunities for design contributions in the Hybrid Method level. Following are a few examples. 

These products are made for different events, but all aim to demonstrate the real potentials of bamboo as an industrial material for contemporary products. Shown here are eating utensils and food containers and bags with bamboo frames. All are made with traditional skills, mixed with conventional shop skills, which managed to achieve forms and functions that fulfill current needs and demands. 

There are also experiments such as forming pre-production bamboo materials (i.e. veneer, board) and their application. These products are still in their prototype states, however, demands for purchase have already been received by the design & research team. Imagine if a production unit for such bamboo products is fully operating, it might be able to generate more income and provide jobs for craftsmen, as well. 

Here is a rough estimation of the increase in the economic value of bamboo material, once it is made into a designed product. One bamboo tube of 4m worth IDR4,000. If the tube is made into winnowing trays, which worth IDR2,500 each, it can produce 10 trays (gaining, in total, IDR25,000) and provide 1,5 working days for a person. If the same tube is made into pincuk eating utensils, it worth IDR192,000, and as a bag frame the price can reach up to millions of IDR. This estimation shows how the input of design and hybrid methods of production can increase the value of the material.      

Prior to bamboo, other natural resources have also been going through research and development phase in design, in order to produce product with improved performance and appearance. Shown here are one of Magno wooden radios produced in Temanggung, Central Java, designed by Singgih S. Kartono and tableware/ kitchen products made of coconut shell and wood, designed by Adhi Nugraha.

More examples: these products are made of wood and etched metal, designed by Adhi Nugraha and produced by Kriya Nusantara in Bandung, West Java. These products have already been produced and commercialized, and therefore are proven to be highly valued by the market. This is how bamboo products with Hybrid Methods are expected to be.   

And that is actually what “Creative Economy” is all about: combining available potentials and resources to add values to products. The keys to achieve such values that are suitable for the conditions in Indonesia are, among others, discovering and respecting local resources, applying correct material treatments and appropriate technology. These keys are expected to upgrade the small-scale industries into the middle-scale industries…  

…that will make our triangle of industry levels look more balanced. This is what we hope to see as our future in Indonesia, creating sustainable enterprises and society.


Thank you.