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Design For Manufacture

Freddie Keen

Freddie Keen is a British multidisciplinary designer with a background in sculpture and furniture design. With a focus on bronze casting he completed his BA at Chelsea College of Art before moving into a professional life as a musician. He found his way back to art and design studying furniture and product design at The Cass School of Design in London and has worked in various fields of furniture, set design and interior design. Freddie is a keen gardener, guitar player, maker and is happiest when using his hands.


Runner Up - KI Award 2020 (FLOW)

Winner - Derek Austin Worshipful Company of Upholders Prize - 2017


Work In Progress, RCA 2020

Grand Challenge CERN, RCA 2019

Young Furniture Makers Exhibition, City of London 2017

Chelsea Flower Show, London 2017

Linley Showroom, London Design Week 2017

Cass, London Design Week 2017

Cass Degree Show 2017





Degree Details

School of Design

Design For Manufacture

My work is focused around the process of making and the psychological importance of using our hands. Whether in making, gardening or playing musical instruments, my work aims to explore in depth the importance of the human connection with the things we do in the context of our time. 

For me good design comes from striving to really understand a situation on a human level. Sometimes that means reading between the lines. I believe this is where an understanding of art and phychology is particularly handy. How does an object, surface or space make you feel? What does it enable you to think or to do? Understanding an issue at its root often requires creative methods of investigation. This is where designers can be best placed to help bridge the gap between technology and the human reality of their application. 

I've used my time at the RCA to explore new design territories as well as unfamiliar approaches to projects, with projects focused on a range of fields - from urban agriculture to rapidly deployable shelters to inflation and vaccum based self building structures. This has not always been comfortable but has broadened my scope of thinking and I've become a more agile designer as a result. 

The work featured in RCA 2020 is an example of my design philosophy at work. It highlights the importance for designers to look for innovative ways of understanding different realities and to be ready to have their assumptions proved wrong.

Freddie Keen. Approaching Blindness Through Craft. RCA 2020

Sam at work

Sam at work 2

Kit of parts


Box/Instruction Manuals. Braille and text



Freddie’s friend Sam has lived with impaired sight all his life. By teaching Sam how to measure, mark and cut traditional dovetail joints the project shines new light on many of the familiar conversations around craft and interrogates the commonly held notions of skill, accuracy, deftness, and of how we assign value to the handmade object. The project aims to challenge designer’s assumptions about sight impaired people’s capabilities around accuracy and safety and offers creative methods by which designers can better understand the needs of sight impaired people in ways that simulation can’t.

The psychological benefits of craft and making are well studied and well known. Craft activities are often encouraged for those suffering grief, depression or PTSD as a way of enhancing self-esteem and feelings of agency while also bringing a sense of relaxation and calm.

The project examines the sensory experience of making to produce a kit of parts as a sequence, guiding the maker through a project without vision as a necessity. The journey through the making process is described in stages corresponding to the layout of the box as each piece is introduced. There are step-by- step instructions written in Braille describing how to navigate the parts, the sequence of the making project and the tactile experiences you should encounter along the way.

Each leg of the stool has its corresponding hole indicated with one, two and three dots engraved into the surface. There are grooves indicating areas to hold the legs and navigate each piece in relation to the next.
The kit is careful to include a particular emphasis on sensory experiences such as touch and smell associated with woodworking - these include spring latches on the box, leather sheath on the saw and leather binding string on the instruction booklet.

As designers we tend to approach projects with the intention of making a positive impact. It’s all too easy to begin with certain expectations of what a design response might look like. This project soon challenged those expectations and the assumptions behind them. Two immediate concerns one might have when considering woodwork and sight impaired people is that of safety and of accuracy. Won’t that be too dangerous? How will they get a straight cut? The designers brain may immediately start ticking over with ideas for specialised tools for the blind - for jigs, universal measuring systems, blade guards - let’s make everything as safe and as accurate as possible. But this project made me realise that to do so would be to deprive that person of some of the fundamental elements of craft. The moment of concentration and focus, of flow, of being in the zone that one so happily gets lost in. But also the capacity to reach mastery through practise. And in any case, who said crafted objects should be neat and tidy anyway?
21 July 2020
13:00 (GMT + 0)

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