Craft Platforms: Digital Platforms Key Findings


In our project, digital platform refers to all kinds of use of digital technologies in craft activities, from social media (e.g. Instagram and WeChat) and online marketplaces (e.g. Esty and Taobao) through to digital production tools (e.g. 3D printers and digital software), materials, and even makerspaces.


Various kinds of digital platforms have been used for craft in both China and the UK

  • Social media: Instagram is very popular for craft makers in the UK, whilst makers in China tend to use WeChat.
  • Live streaming such as Kuaishou and TikTok, an emerging digital platform, has become a popular way to engage a broad range of audiences with craft in China.
  • Compared to China, UK makers are more likely to have personal websites, which are one of the main channels for them to promote their craft business.
  • Emails, newsletters, podcast and radio are widely used in the UK and rarely used in China.
  • E-education is more embraced by makers in China in comparison to the UK’s makers.

Social media

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, Forums

Wechat, QQ, Weibo, Baidu Tieba, Douban, Lofter, Xiaohongshu

Live streaming platforms


TikTok, Billibilli, Kuai Shou


Personal website, Guild website, WordPress

Guild websites

Official websites of institutes

Direct commu-nication

Email, Newsletters (e.g. e-mail lists)


Podcast, Radio, YouTube, Vimeo

Online market-places

Esty, Ebay

Taobao, XianYu, Jing Dong, Dong Jia



Online university of craft,, Ai kecheng


iMovie, Corel Draw
Weavepoint software

AE(Adobe After Effects),
Sketch up

Photoshop, CAD, Illustrator

Digital making tools

Computer-assisted loom
Digital engraving, Electronic Kiln

German non-contact scanner, CNC

Laser cutting


Virtual Reality

iPad, Phone, computer

Differences and similarities of uses for digital platforms for craft in the UK and China


  • Digital platforms not only offer makers an opportunity to learn skills such as craft skills and digital skills, but also assist in the production in terms of accessing digital technology in the UK and China
  • Digital platforms such as social media help makers keep in touch with their customers, create business opportunities and new business model (B2B) in China
  • Online payment applications provide makers in China with a convenient way to get payment/ make it much more convenient for makers to get payment
  • Digital platforms such as e-Museum have been used to promote and conserve traditional craft in China
  • Online sale events have the potential to stimulate craft sales in the UK and China

Learn Skills
(including craft skills digital skills)


  • Watch YouTube to learn         skills
  • Learning new technologies
  • Sharing the making process
  • Improve skills in craft practice
  • Craft education and research on Twitter
  • The government established the “Traditional Craft Innovation Distance Education Centre” as an online craft education platform for craftsmen across the country;
  • Some craftspeople use TikTok, WeChat public account, various handicraft learning groups, and related platforms to learn handicraft



  • Home access(production)
  • 3D Printing
  • Testing boundaries of current technologies
  • Part of the production needs to be outsourced, such as computer lettering, etc.



  • Craft making and craft work on Instagram


  • With a smart phone, makers in everywhere can do live streaming on (Taobao,Tiktok) (instant interactive)

Business opportunity


  • Find audience
  • Searching event opportunities


  • Craft events including promotion and sale (design process & final work)

Business to business


  • Amazon (buy raw materials)


  • Alibaba (B2B platform buy materials)
  • Online auction, Business model (Platforms, Instructors, Media, Competitors collaboratively engaged in the craft –making process)



  • Card reader
  • Sumup (use credit cards for payment)
  • Pay by bank transfer


  • Pay by WeChat pay and Alipay

Online sale Event


  • Black Friday
  • Christmas sale


  • 11.11
  • 12.12

Conservation and promotion


  • Promoting traditional craft
  • Transmit traditional cultural

Value generated through the use of digital platforms for craft in the UK and China


  • Digital platforms have generated considerable value for craft in both two countries: bringing innovation opportunities to craft, attracting more audiences, facilitating better interaction with customers, increasing sales, promoting networking, reducing the cost of marketing, and improving the efficiency of trade
  • Digital platforms have also supported the conservation of traditional Chinese craft, which is part of Chinese traditional cultural heritages
  • Create collaboration between craft and other sectors, e.g., Oluwaseyi Sosanya’s development of 3D weaving which can apply in sectors including health, architecture, aerospace and clothing
  • Bring craft innovation practice to other sectors e.g. use of innovative craft applications in Bentley cars
  • Create opportunities to collaborate with the third party and to promote craft business, e.g., receive craft gift by using points of ICBC (a bank) from its e-commerce shopping platforms
  • Preserve traditional heritage
  • Bring innovation to craft
  • Attract audiences
  • Make Interaction with customers
  • Increase sales
  • Networking
  • Reduce cost of marketing and improve the efficiency of trade



  • Makers and craft companies in the UK pay more attention to IP protection, in particular, some craft companies have lawyers to deal with IP related issues
  • Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce platform has an IP policy, which has a specific algorithm to find plagiarised craft products and will punish those online shops
  • Pay attention to the IP protection: e.g., Tatty Devine hire a lawyer to deal with IP problems.
  • Alibaba has IP policy: i)Has algorithm to find similar(copied) product;  ii)Shops with similar design will be punished
  • The plagiarism may stimulate the speed of innovation
  • Patent
  • Copyright
  • Makers concern the copyright issue but there are still lots of copy on the market


There are various challenges for makers in both UK and China to use digital platforms for their craft activities.

  • Multiple social media channels make it difficult for makers to manage in terms of time and skills
  • Inability to access to the Internet in some rural areas of the UK prevent makers from getting in touch with customers/collaborators instantly
  • No face-to-face connection with humans and lack of physically handling the craft remain the barriers for promoting digital platforms in craft
  • It is challenging for makers to reach the right audiences in social media and online marketplaces in both countries
  • People’s perception about craft also affect makers: i) in the UK, craft should be handmade, and it does not look completely perfect; ii) Customers’ decision is mainly affected by the price
  • It can be expensive to promote craft on some online marketplaces
  • Craft makers are not equipped with relevant digital skills in social media, production and online marketplaces 

Digital Skills

  • How to make the best use of digital tools to produce craft
  • “Help” menu of software is not always helpful
  • Lack of professional level of knowledge about online promotion and sales, especially for those makers in the rural areas despite they may be able to use TikTok and Wechat
  • Build own fan pool: refers to gather individual’s fans together without depending the third party’s platform
  • Learn and keep up with new technologies
  • Cannot find proper information
  • How to get to the top of search results
  • Difficult to choose platforms
  • Lack of skills to manage social media
  • Do not know how to Promote craft on social media
  • Not knowing how to use digital platforms
  • Have no confidence in using digital platforms
  • “Number of followers” is not equal to “sales”


  • No internet connection in some areas
  • Online payment is difficult
  • Finding the right materials (for technology production)
  • Cannot link social media with different accounts
  • Some online sites too restrictive
  • Advertising fee
  • Expensive to use
  • Cost in terms of taking professional photography
  • Lack of economic viability due to low quality (e.g., ceramics)
  • Some handicrafts with large volumes, sophisticated technology and difficult to obtain raw materials are not convenient for teaching online, such as bamboo weaving and ceramics
  • Lack of platform to connect with some craft accessories’ manufacturers (In the process of production and development)
  • It costs manpower, material resources and time, and the amount of fans and exposure accumulated on some platforms is someone else’s. (for example, Taobao Live streaming)
  • Too many social media channels
  • Platforms may try to cover too many things e.g., craft, social media, marketplace, digital production
  • UK: Some platforms are very professional and only used for specific crafts && China says same: There is no access to some platform policies. For example, Daxi leather goods cannot be supported by the third party’s APP because it is not a traditional Chinese handicraft.
  • Difficult to promote in larger platforms
  • Promotion: Lack of media operating professionals
  • Customer service issues
  • Lack of quality control in the online marketplace
  • Pay for permission to be featured on online marketplaces and social media



  • Difficult to engage audiences on multi-platforms at the same time
  • Social media: Difficult to monitor its impact regarding engage with customers
  • Challenge to collaborate with designers who are provided by the third party in terms of perception about craft
  • Require frequency update many platforms to attract customers
  • Customers are mainly mid and upper-class who are not familiar with digital
  • Social media cannot reach to all kinds of customers
  • UK: Problems finding the right audiences && China: The communication of social platforms is limited by the number of fans, and the communication scope is small, which needs promotion.

Physicality of craft

  • The social perception that craft should be handmade, and it does not look completely perfect
  • Customers compare products mainly by prices (decisions by price instead of quality or detail of products)
  • Difficult to sell the price over 1000RMB craft online
  • Cannot figure out difference between similar products online
  • Disconnected from humans (not face-to-face)
  • Non-tactile access to craft
  • Consumers cannot touch the products on the network platform, and their trust is insufficient


  • Most craft patents belong to appearance patent, which is easier copy compared with technology-based patent
  • Challenge to produce creative work rapidly in order to attract customers and win the market
  • UK: IP protection concerns
  • China: easy to copy and hard to protect IP for online market


  • Multiple channels: distracting
  • Digital native vs older generation (people who are not born in the digital era)
  • Balancing between trade-offs (cost of platform, professionalisation, income)
  • Personal preference: Unlike and pursue traditional as well as nature



  • Universities in the UK have started to open transdisciplinary craft-related courses to teach makers knowledge about engineering and materials.
  • Live streaming has become a trendy way for makers in China to promote craft
  • Chinese makers combine traditional craft elements in daily products, e.g., embroidery in loudspeakers, which may promote craft in modern times
  • Restoring ancient customs (traditional Han-style clothing) have played an important role in protecting traditional craft in China
  • UK makers provide customers with modifiable services and co-design with them
  • E-learning craft skills are gradually being embraced in the UK
  • Provide transdisciplinary craft-related courses 
  • Cross-disciplinary collaboration HNU (check in China)
  • Material science combined with craft
  • E-learning 
  • Modifiable (from customers feedback) and co-design with customer
  • Improve products’ quality
  • Traditional craft combine new media, i.e., live streaming
  • Combine traditional craft elements in daily products, e.g., embroidery in loudspeakers
  • Restore ancient ways (traditional Han-style clothing)
  • To access information and inspiration



  • Digital production equipment has the potential to facilitate making and provide cheaper craft (half-handmade) in both the UK and China.
  • Social media could reduce the cost of promoting craft business in both countries.
  • Outsourcing has become more popular due to the development of digital technology.
  • Social media provides makers in the UK more opportunities to network.
  • Digital production can offer more products/design for customers in China.
  • Digital platforms provide craft makers with new opportunities in terms of reaching customers and collaboration.
  • Networking
  • Generating audience
  • Explore international promotion marketing
  • Facilitate professional display (e.g., professional digital photo)
  • Reach lots of people without cost
  • Easy to be searched
  • Provide more products / design for customers
  • Collaborate with social media influencer
  • Collaborate with social media
  • Cooperate with public libraries
  • Competitions supported by local institutes
  • Increase influence and build personal brands
  • Craft making entertainment and education APP
  • Machine made
  • Reduce cost
  • Wide range of prices (very low prize products)
  • Outsourcing
  • More efficient/save time


General recommendations for both the UK and China:

  • Knowledge loop: draw a map of skills needed for contemporary craft, identify making and digital platforms, and make recommendations for education policy, e.g., policy for training for digital technology skills (government support)
  • Raise awareness of which digital skills makers need nowadays
  • Provide opportunities for digital outsourcing activities such as social media

Learning from best practice in each country and applying it to the other. The diagram illustrates examples of best practice in the UK which could be beneficially applied in China, and examples of best practice in China which could be beneficially applied to the UK.

  • Innovation practices in the UK – emphasising innovation and experimentation in craft practice
  • Emphasise the craftmanship/ hand-made value of craft items (time, effort, labour)
  • Craft Hubs, Maker spaces (e.g. with 3d printers, laser cutters etc.) publicly available (in China either in private studio or University) – some government support in the UK – this could be a recommendation for China
  • Bottom-up not-for-profit organisations e.g., craft hubs/ collectives – most craft support in China is from top-down (government support)
  • Easier to access specialist equipment e.g., computer aided loom
  • Training for specialist equipment
  • Government policy support
  • Encourage large companies to support craft: e.g. Alibaba building platform to identify copying of craft (using big data), and develop tools to understand customer preference/ trends (Qianniu-牵牛); and platform to support b-2-b
  • Top Down Infrastructure e.g., Improved Internet access
  • Online payment systems e.g., Alipay and WeChat Pay
  • School education: e.g., children encouraged to use cultural elements in their schoolwork
  • Live streaming
  • Crowdfunding of craft
  • AR museum craft presentations

Digital platforms have inevitably reshaped the craft sector in both countries. On the one hand, digital technologies provide more possibilities for craft making. For instance, mould making can be undertaken much quicker by 3D printing than by hand. On the other hand, many makers may have to sacrifice their precious making time to learn digital skills such as using design software and managing social media accounts. Six categories of recommendation are proposed as shown in the Figure 1, which illustrate how these recommendations touch on a craft maker’s journey from inspiration for making and then sales.


Figure 1: Recommendations along the craftmakers’ journey

Recommendation: Digital Skills

Increased provision of digital skills training and awareness is needed to help craftmakers make the best use of social media, production tools, and online marketplaces for their craft. Supporting outsourcing of digital aspects such as social media management would help to reduce the additional time burden of using digital platforms.

Recommendation: Access

Greater access to high-speed internet especially in the UK and high-quality digital production tools especially in China should be made available through government infrastructure and maker spaces. Community-based, not-for-profit, and guild based online marketplaces should be encouraged in order to increase access to markets. These could also offer routes to crowd-funding, which would help to reduce financial risk.

Recommendation: Engagement

Embracing live streaming may provide a route for craftmakers in the UK to connect with wider audiences for craft and build networks of trust. Diversifying activities at craft exhibitions in China may help to increase customer engagement, for example through hands-on training with craftmakers as is often offered at UK exhibitions.

Recommendation: The Physicality of Craft

Craft produces physical objects which are impossible to touch online. Augmented Reality might offer ways to convey the physicality of craft objects when they can’t be touched.

Recommendation: Intellectual Property (IP)

A craftmaker’s intellectual property is arguably one of their greatest assets. Greater awareness of IP protection of craft needs to be provided by online marketplaces and governments. This would help encourage the use of digital platforms to promote and sell craft.

Recommendation:  Lifestyle

Many craftmakers have a personal preference for the non-digital nature of craft. For example, working with their hands. A balance is needed between making and the necessary digital aspects such as advertising on social media and selling on online marketplaces. Similarly, whilst many craft consumers have a personal preference for traditional styles, craftmakers may gain new customers by exploring crafts for people born in the digital age.

Contact Us has been produced by the project research team at Queen Mary University of London, UK, and Hunan University, China.

Contact E-mail:

For more information or to speak to the craft research team, please contact:

Prof. Nick Bryan-Kinns

School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science
Queen Mary University of London
London E1 4NS

Prof. Hao Tan

School of Design, Hunan University
Yuelu Mountain, Changsha