Glassblowing — just like a design process

Talk about Venice—and the first thing that pops up in many of our minds is a “City of Water.” Indeed, when I was travelling in Venice during my teens, one thing I found it difficult to believe was that there were such things as “a water police, a water fire station, and a water taxi.” Coming from a place where travelling on land was the main mode of transportation; you can understand why I was surprised.

Venice at night (Taken from Travel+Leisure)

Despite the amazing water scenery, an art form that I was fascinated by, from this visit, is glassblowing. Using a blow tube or a blow pipe, the glassblowing process is depicted by the inflation of molten glass into a parson, or bubble. Firstly, the blowpipe is preheated and then dipped into the molten glass that is in the furnace. After this, the glass is rolled onto the marver – a flat, thick sheet of steel, allowing for the exterior to form a cool skin. Finally, a bubble is next created by blowing air into the pipe which develops into the piece.

Glassblowing (Taken from

I’m very sure that glassblowing is not a skill acquired overnight and it takes years of practice and patience. Just like ‘Free Blowing’ – a type of glassblowing process, only a skilled worker can shape nearly any piece by controlling and swinging the pipe while they blow.

Souvenirs bought during my family trip to Venice

As I work in the Sauder, I find that my experience depicts that of the journey of glassblowing. Or you could say that the process of glass blowing is just like a design process. Speaking from an inexperienced glass blower point of view, you are pretty much out of control when you start to blow into the tube. Needless to say, the outcome of the shape might differ greatly from your desired piece. Similarly, journeying through a design process is pretty much unpredictable too. You enter the design process with a specific challenge or problem, but you leave with a new insight or outcome that differs from your aim. And although this result might not answer your objective, it is definitely a building block for you to solve a bigger picture.

Recently, I was working on a project for the past two months, with the ultimate goal of producing a certain deliverable. After a somewhat long discussion, the team decided that we would not produce the deliverable anymore. Frankly speaking, I was not as shock (as I would if it was my first day), because I understood that we operate much like a design process here—we are always in the cycle of prototyping. But of course, I wouldn’t deny in saying that I was not disappointed. But as I processed my thoughts, it dawned upon me that sometimes, like many goal-setters out there, I am too engrossed in achieving my results that I lose sight of the process. And like a design process, the process is actually more vital.

Unfinished jigsaw puzzle (Taken from Flickr Hive Mind)

As I sit back, I remembered what my dad told me in regards to this experience, “As long as you try your best in whatever you are currently doing, it doesn’t matter if the information is currently being used, because they will be bound to be used in future.” And I thought … not only is a design process like a glassblowing experience, it’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle – you fill in the little gaps for a bigger picture.



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