A Learning App for Glassblowing
MindBlown focuses on the out-of-studio experience. Due to the relative inaccessibility of professional glassblowing studios, MindBlown brings glassblowing to the user. MindBlown is meant as a place to learn the craft of glassblowing from your mobile device by teaching the process of glassblowing, allowing one to create a virtual piece, and guiding one through the studio through an augmented reality component.
process and ethnography
I attended a one-hour glassblowing class (purchased through Groupon), took notes, and participated in o
Because of the danger, expense, and use of specific machinery, glassblowing tends to be a one-time activity or a dedicated apprenticeship. There is little in-between due to the nature of the craft. The basic resources required to create a glassblowing piece are often limited to professional studios.
Professional studios are large areas with high ceilings and good ventilation. There must be space for heavy machinery, as well as more delicate material. Average studio offerings range from creating one piece for 30 minutes at a cost of $45 to a five week introductory course that costs $550 per person.
Contained within these studios are highly specific and large machinery, including a furnace where molten glass is stored at up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit (most left picture), a glory hole where pieces are heated and spun while working (middle picture and actual glassblowing term), a bench, a jack, a mold, and more. Professional glassblowing studios, such as Atlanta Hot Glass, are hubs for glassblowing due to the presence of heavy (and specific) machinery.
A home “Glass Blowing Starter Kit” from Glasscraft costs $431.00 for one Nortel Minor Torch, one Oxy and one Propane Regulator, one propane and oxy hose set, and one set of flashback arrestors. Even this starter kit is limited in scope, only being able to be used with soft glass. Glassblowing is not primarily a household or leisurely activity.
In addition, the machinery present in professional glassblowing studios is dangerous due to the high heat. Glassblowing is meant for a specific controlled environment with the presence of highly-trained professionals. Although home kits are available, it is an investment that would be off-putting to those who are not dedicated to the craft or abiding to the rules of it.
With nine total participants in the one-hour course, there was limited time for craft and personalization. For the average eight participants, this only leaves 7.5 minutes per participant (and with the extra participant, it only left 6.5 minutes for my specific course). In addition, time is spent to provide the basic information and demonstration. There was little time for questions, nor clarification despite the highly technical nature of glassblowing.
A sign-up sheet was passed around with the note that blowers (those who blow into the pipe to inflate the molten glass) must not be before or after the spinners (those who spin the pipe and use other tools to craft the piece). Blowers are up to the discretion of the spinners, and, thus, not everyone had the opportunity to be a blower.
Due to the multiple steps of the process at different areas of the studio, the instructors were able to have two people go at once (one who is just ending and one who is just starting). It was a highly calculated and controlled process. There was guidance at every step.
Deviating the process could result in error and add even more time to the process. The instructor made it clear that deviation from the process could be dangerous. He set very clear guidelines, added by physical guidance. The multi-step process was very formulated for a reason. Glassblowing is not to be toyed with, especially as a beginner. There is too much at stake.
Due to the danger and time allotted for glassblowing, the instructors acted as guides and even took over at many points. There is no room for error when there is 2000 degree Fahrenheit molten glass, as well as other machinery at high heat at all times. These conditions (formatted into a one-hour course) prevented in depth education and familiarity with the craft of glassblowing. Instead, the goal of a functioning and aesthetically-pleasing piece took priority. Thus, there was a lack of creativity and personalization for participants.
Access is the Number 1 issue, as it encompasses many of glassblowing’s primary features: expense, resources, danger. Getting one’s foot in the door is imperative to sustaining the interest in a practice. Getting one’s foot into the glassblowing door requires physicality—the act of being where the machinery and materials are and the act of creating the piece through various specific steps. Physicality is a central theme of glassblowing.
However, my practice and research also gave me a glimpse into this exclusive world. I was able to see the great dedication to glassblowing among hobbyists and professionals alike, as well as the great interest among outsiders. There is an audience here. The disconnect exists in the actual nature of the craft.
With this in mind, I created a mobile app for glassblowing. The prototype that I created is called MindBlown, which speaks to the app’s learning angle. MindBlown emphasizes learning about glassblowing (the process and the machinery) and creating beautiful glass virtually. The app is inclusionary, allowing individuals to stay in practice and to hone their skills so that there is less confusion and more confidence at the studio. This prototype acknowledges the danger, space, and professionalism of glassblowing, while also giving more autonomy, creativity, and knowledge to the beginner.
The prototype is meant to bridge the world of in-studio action and out-of-studio interest.
Glassblowing for beginners is largely inaccessible, lacks personalization, and requires multiple, specific steps. These three key insights call for a prototype that increases accessibility, increases personalization, and acquaints the interactor with the glassblowing process in a more intimate way. This prototype is meant to help develop the glassblowing community and inform those who may not have the resources to participate. Although glassblowing still thrives in certain circles, its reach is exclusive. This prototype puts glassblowing at the fingertips of any individual who wishes to delve into this world.