The Closest Thing We Had to an Industrial Design–based Comic Strip

By Core77 on August 10, 2015 in Design - Other
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The longest-running single-artist comic strip in the world was not “Peanuts.” It was “Wordless Workshop,” a DIY strip begun in 1954 by comics artist Roy Doty. It’s the closest thing there’s ever been to an ID-based comic strip, in that each installment shows a problem, and how one physically solves it using design.

Published in Popular Science beginning in 1954, the strip started out as a product of its times, with clearly defined gender roles that seem quaint today; the strips typically depicted the housewife experiencing a domestic problem or minor accident, and the handy-with-a-saw husband solving it in his toolshed. (As the times changed, problems evolved from unreturned glass soda bottles to iPad stands, and the female protagonist contributed more evenly.)

As per the title there were no words or text, with each idea being presented only in illustrations. The viewer was still expected to do the math, and it was assumed that every family had saws, hammers and a drill press in the garage. Perhaps most brilliantly, the solutions were all crowdsourced; this allowed readers around the country, folks who might be clever builders but couldn’t necessarily draw, to send in descriptions of their problems/solutions for Doty to illustrate. This ensured no shortage of ideas and led to roughly six decades’ worth of installments.

“Wordless Workshop” ran from ’54 to 1990 in Popular Science, and was then picked up by the Home & Garden Group’s Family Handyman magazine without missing a month. The last installment I saw was several issues ago, then they abruptly ended; sadly Doty, a Columbus College of Art & Design graduate who worked into his 90s, passed away earlier this year.

Unfortunately, Doty’s website disappeared into the ether after his passing, and the “Wordless Workshop” series will not be handed over to another artist. Amazon, however, has a couple of WW collections in book form, here and here.