Isabel Mager on how the making of tech devices carry untold human value

This designer explores design mechanisms broadly and how they affect culture and way of life.

Isabel Mager is something of a journalist cum designer – a Design Academy Eindhoven graduate who delves into the production methods of our material world, questioning to what degree these often shrouded systems of manufacturing affect not only those who enjoy the final product, but those whose hands are instrumental in their creation.

“My work is sort of a critique on certain aspects of design,” she says, “Throughout the study I started to question continuous material production and look into the appropriation of signs and symbols.”

Before taking to the Design Indaba Conference stage to share her 5000times project, Mager offered some contextual insight on what drives her as a creative investigator. She is interested in what design reinforces on a cultural level, how it affects everyday norms and to what extent it forms actual lifestyles.

 “I basically unveil the human aspect that is standing behind the sleek, high-tech devices that we all use on a daily basis, be it smartphones, tablets, laptops. In a quite forensic way, I try to investigate and pull out the human task and human value that is inside these machines which so easily seem to be only produced by machinery.” 

Mager captures this ethereal value in physical form by creating actual stacks of materials used by one assembly worker during a single day in the making of a smartphone. In doing so, she inspires truthful dialogue about the manual labour performed by real individuals. According to her, it is important to spread awareness of the human value instilled by the hands that work tirelessly to meet the demands of fast-paced technology markets.

Watch the Talk with Isabel Mager