The Hidden Design of Hobby-Craft
Why are you interested in a product like 5D Diamond Painting as a design artefact?
The 5D Diamond Painting is not an obvious case study for design. It does not offer a clear function or technological innovation, and its visuals are not iconic or radical. In fact, it is a highly gendered product associated with feminine aesthetics and a female audience—and thus it is easily dismissed as a hobby with no value. It is an insignificant, cheap-looking, and IP-free object oriented towards a niche customer base, developing through ad hoc circumstances rather than long-term intention and vision. The complexity of the 5D Diamond Painting lies not in its design but its adaptation to networks of production, sales, and shipment largely shaped by Alibaba. Products that appear almost identical may have very different production processes, and one product may be the result of collaboration, exchange, and diverse forms of expertise.
How do you use this craft as a tool for design research?
Without intellectual property or branding, searching for 5D Diamond Paintings on Alibaba yields thousands of almost identical results. This outcome may be confusing to the consumer, but as a design researcher, I used this approach to generate a geographic map of factories, shops, and resellers, all related to the same product archetype and accessible through the chat function. The only way to understand such products is through online identifiers, from keywords and factory profiles to market segments—together, they turn 5D Diamond Paintings into a brand that simultaneously has no owner and millions of owners (e.g. inventor, image editor, manufacturer, worker, seller, reseller, and consumer). The online marketplace is not determined only by digital algorithms, but rooted in a geography of market towns, factory villages, port facilities, and social structures that have made Chinese design and manufacture the most prolific in the world.
How has this product influenced the development of rural villages in their evolution to manufacturing?
The combination of Alibaba, the road network, and the logistics infrastructure has extended China’s factory network to its furthest points in the “Taobao villages”, where cheap labour and less advanced manufacturing technology can absorb some or all of the production process for certain kinds of objects. Places like YanTou Village in Zhejiang Province play a key role in making 5D Diamond Paintings that are bought as pre-assembled products rather than DIY kits. What is viewed as a leisure activity in the West becomes a labour activity in YanTou, where women (who comprise most of the inhabitants) take orders for craft labour to finish in their free time between childcare and housework. For both Western buyers and Chinese workers, the production of 5D Diamond Paintings traces a long process that unites factories, markets, and ports with domestic spaces.