Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rob Walker/Handmade 2.0

Rob Walker is the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (2008). He is also contributing writer and columnist for the New York Times. His column titled "Consumed" is a smart discussion about consumer culture and the marketing of goods. In addition, Rob keeps a similar, but more dense blog called Murketing.

Throughout the presentation Rob listed various consumer tensions that I found also to be the tensions of designers both big and small.
This the tension list I could pull together from rough notes and my fallible memory, you'll get the gist.
1) Attracted to novelty except when the want the something familiar.
2) Being an individual except when they want to be a part of something.
3) Wanting progress and a connection to the past and craft.
4) Wanting cheap quality.
I would add:
5) Wanting to make nice and/or crafted things and be accessible to all.
6) Amongst peers, compete vs. cooperate/share.
7) Making a living and pursuing your craft.

Rob gave another list, what the consumer craves:
1) authenticity
2) ethics (spending your dollar is political)
3) quality
4) story

Larger corporations are generally equipped to make something novelty, familiar and cheap. What absent, is the story. I would also argue that craftsmanship is absent in mass produced goods. A personal purchasing encounter or relationship with a craftsman is where the consumer can find the greatest quality, authenticity and story.

So in theory this is what consumers want, but is it? Enter recession, enter the "new frugality" which attaches virtue to cheapness. We both agree that getting what is cheap is not always getting your money's worth not to mention the potential social and environmental costs.

In addition, I question whether consumers even know what quality is any more? Its hard to find in the big box retailers that make up our suburban landscape. I know within fashion it has been my experience that consumer's no longer recognize the difference between synthetic and natural fabrics, the different types of finishing on garments and or what a garment that fits looks like.

Rob pointed out that we don't know how to make/do anything anymore other than shop. If we are removed from the process of creating it makes it a lot harder to value goods and value quality goods.

There was a bit of animosity at the conference towards DIY craft. Rob believes that multiple versions of craft are just fine. There is room for everyone, creates various discussion at various levels and that the DIY crafts might act as a gateway drug for other "finer" craft. Ha, I love it. I have to agree. I don't think its hurting anyone or really a threat to master craft work.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Craftsman in Society/Dr. Richard Sennett

I'll start by pulling a bit from The Craftsman (which i highly recommend reading) to give you an idea where we're going here.

"Craftsmanship" may suggest a way of life that waned with the advent of industrial society - but this is misleading. Craftsmanship names an enduring , basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Craftsmanship cuts a far wider swath than skilled manual labor; it serves the computer programmer, the doctor and the artist; parenting improves when it is practiced as a skilled craft, as does citizenship.

Below are the talking points I extracted.
  • Does quality work for its own sake.
  • Doesn't take shortcuts.
  • Exhibits an evolution of skill.
  • Building skill is slow and experimental.
  • Making something is a primordial mark of identity, it confirms you were here.
  • Code Craft, computer programmers making coding a craft. Dr. Sennett is a big fan of the Linux community.
  • A pursuit of problem solving, less or no focus on end product.
  • Open knowledge systems that share "tools" of the trade.
Conflict and Challenges for Craft Inside Modern Capitalism :
  • Mediocrity dominates over quality.
  • Conflict between the desire for solutions and desire for craft.
  • Enormous pressure to deliver goods in a short term economy.
  • Quantity or growth matters more than results.
  • Model of life long career is gone.
  • We no longer reward quality and discriminate against craftsmen.
  • Technology is created to remove us from the process of making.
  • Machines remove the need for tacit understanding. Can the machine eliminate subjective knowledge?
  • Example: CAD design. Designer is the spectator. When the computer shows the results it understands, but do you (the designer)?
My two cents:
When did we get so fast? When did everything get so big? Why did "everyone" decide they wanted to "go public" and thus be pressured to produce quarterly growth at any cost? Is it because the bigger a corporation gets the exponentially greater the compensation for the top executives and they're making the decisions that benefit them? Is it the illusion that growth in corporations improves quality of life for all despite the fact that only a fraction of the population benefits from this growth?

Dr. Sennett mentioned that, "closed knowledge systems have small life cycles". I am not sure if I am understanding exactly what he means but it made me think, this is where the fashion industry has so strayed from craft. The current American fashion industry is generally closed, highly secretive and rarely collaborative among peers. We are forced to design in short life cycles, 3-4 collections a year. Has that hindered our progress and the quality of our work? If we had open knowledge systems, where we assumed our ideas were safe, shared contacts, ideas, resources, techniques, maybe even space, would we experience healthy competition, a sense of community and produce less but better fashion?

American Craft Council's 2009 Conference

I just got back from my first American Craft Council Conference in Minneapolis, Minn. I wasn't exactly sure why I was going, but felt strongly compelled to make a trip out of it. I flew into Milwaukee to hang out with my grandma and then drove with my mom across I-94 straight through the gorgeous fall leaves into Minneapolis. I was most excited to hear Dr. Richard Sennett who's book, The Craftsman has "disrupted" my life much like Small in Beautiful or Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster.
Upon signing up for this conference, I feared a specific outcome. I predicted that I would attend this conference, listen to the presentations, which would then put me into a manic state and I wouldn't know how to best mobilize all the wonderful information I was adding to my database.
I was right, I came back to Brooklyn and traded bliss for angst.
To oversimplify, the angst comes from choice, the choice to be the craftsperson or study them?

Atelier or Academia?

Lucky for you, as part of my information digestion process which I am hoping will aid my decision making/life crafting, I will be creating a series of posts sharing the notes I took at the conference.


Visit to watch the trailer. Fresh, unlike another movie that came out around the same time and rhymes with, rude pink, makes you want to hug everyone in the room rather than poke your eyes out and eat a big mac.