Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. An author of numerous books and articles on design, she is a public-minded critic, frequent lecturer, and AIGA Gold Medalist. Read More

Lupton Twins/D.I.Y. Kids

Originally published on the blog Babble.com, October 2007.

Ellen and Julia Lupton are designers, professors, mothers and identical twins who grew up finishing each other’s sentences. They’ve put their collaboration to work in D.I.Y. Kids, a sequel to Ellen’s 2006 book D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself, to which Julia contributed. In this latest joint project, the Luptons teach design to kids through amazing projects using the stuff of daily life: paper, cereal boxes, pencils, pens, everyday clothing. More than a craft guide, D.I.Y. Kids teaches kids to design their own fun and to work art into their lives. The authors spoke to Babble about the D.I.Y. movement, kids’ innate creativity, and getting your children to make their own toys. — Colette LaBouff Atkinson

In your authors’ note, you talk about how design is art that people can use. And you refer to raising kids as “the ultimate D.I.Y. activity.”

We want kids and their parents to learn about design from the inside, by doing it. Design is a horizon of possible futures, and it’s a set of skills for living. Raising kids requires every resource that you have: time and money, of course, but also ingenuity, patience and a sense of fun. For us, raising kids has meant getting out the art box, rediscovering scissors and learning to sew. Parenting can really connect you to what was most liberating in your own childhood. You get to reopen creative drawers you thought were shut for good.

While the book is practical and playful — offering hints about the relative ease and messiness of projects — there’s a larger message here about doing without mass media, teams or name-brands.

When we were writing the book, we’d walk down the aisle of the supermarket with the kids, or go to a birthday party, or check out someone’s outfit, and then ask, “Is it D.I.Y., or is it corporate?” They’d roll their eyes, but they became experts at distinguishing the pre-packaged parts of their environment from the moments fashioned by thinkingDesign is not just about making stuff. It’s about making stuff happen. people like them. It’s not an absolute divide, of course: digital media allow kids to participate in the bigger culture, while also making their own stuff. We want this book to help them do both, better.

Your book encourages kids and parents to use what they have and make their own artistic mark. How did you come up with the many ideas in the book?

We art-directed a lot of the projects pretty heavily. We also got some creative friends involved, especially with the sewing projects. But sometimes the kids came up with ideas by themselves. At the park one day, they started filling their socks with sand and then drawing faces on them. Presto: sock bean bags. It was always exciting when the kids took a bag of supplies and ran with it, pushing a project in directions that we hadn’t imagined.

Your kids are featured here. How are they and their friends central to this project?

Most art books for kids rely on examples made by adults. The look is slicker, but it can be frustrating for young readers. Our book displays work made by kids. We wanted to capture the quirks and quests of emergent designers. Grown-ups couldn’t make up the lettering games explored by kids, or the special way they splatter fabric paint onto T-shirts, or their sense of a page layout for a zine or a photo album. Design is not just about making stuff. It’s about making stuff happen.

What’s next?

We’re working on Design Your Life: Creating An Original Life in a Mass-Produced World. Parenting is a big theme, but the book is also about floor plans, meal plans and the joys of self-publishing. Building on ideas developed in our blog, design-your-life.org , we want to show how design is a form of creative thinking that can be used to tackle the challenges of everyday life.