Big Box Vernacular: DIY as Design Language and Design Opportunity


Our aim is to refine a contemporary design language, kit of tools, and suite of skills afforded to the masses by ways of the Big Box home improvement center. (Lowes, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, etc.) The days of vernacular furniture existing outside of niche craft circles were largely ended by the beginning of the 20th century, however the last 120 years have seen an array of designers, makers, and now content creators, creating and sharing designs centered around putting the make of furniture back into its user’s hands. In most all of these instances, these creators rely heavily on materials and tools which can be easily purchased at large hardware stores, and as such I have dubbed this category of design, “Big Box Vernacular.” Under COVID quarantine in early 2021, Eric Loucks and I were able to put the ideals of Big Box Vernacular to the test, teaching a 5 week online course at RISD to students with little to no furniture design or making experience. By using, categorizing, and analyzing a wide list of examples, we compiled a list of somewhat easy to use materials, tools, and techniques that would be available to our students scattered across the globe. Online demonstrations and exercises coupled with a handful of prerecorded videos empowered the students to explore and develop both explicit and tacit knowledge. In this short time each student designed and made their own collection of furniture, further contributing to the category of Big Box Vernacular.


John Dixon
Assistant Profrssor, Industrial Design, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Designed Objects


Furniture, Craft, Vernacular, Making, History, Commons, Open-source

Digital Media


Big Box Vernacular (pdf)