Monday, January 14, 2013

The return of 'making'

Summer holiday reading included a couple of books on the return of ‘making’. Firstly, a book published in the UK by the Crafts Council, edited by D. Charny (2011) called ‘power of making: the importance of beingskilled’ and a book by C. Anderson (editor for Wired Magazine) called ‘Makers: Thenew industrial revolution (kindle version 2012).

Both extol the return to making. Humans evolved as makers of things. The industrial revolution shifted manufacturing into mass production, removing many artisanal , small /family owned businesses. Specialised craft skills and craftsmanship approaches have been lost as a result of the ‘material’ society whereby all products are ‘mass-produced’ / manufactured and purchased from retailers. A similar theme explored in other books, including Sennett’s ‘the craftsman’ and Crawford’s ‘shop class as soul craft’.

Now, it is possible for designers to manufacture their own product through using open source / crowd sourced software / hardware, ability to tap in to specialised manufacturers for components / parts and access to the ‘long tail’ of the market demand curve.  Specialists products / bespoke / individualised items now attainable. Rapid prototying using 3D printers and crowdsourcing lowers time for product development. Availability / democratising of hardware also assist the process. In the Makers book, Anderson compares the example of his grandfather, who invented a system to set up automatic / timed lawn watering. Anderson’s grandfather had great difficulty finding a manufacturer and then keeping control of the quality of the product. In contrast, Anderson himself set up a business that designed, assembled and sold radio-controlled  or robot helicopters. The process evolved quickly, with design and software development in US of A, parts sourced via internet, website took care of sales, just-in time manufacture in Mexico and delivery via the extensive courier / mail delivery system we now all take for granted. Development of hardware and software was completed with a mixture of open-source, crowd-source and mashing, leveraging on global intellectual minds of enthusiasts and specialists. 

Therefore, there is now greater need for skill sets that include conceptualisation of the ‘entire’ making from notion, to design process, to testing and production. The focus of the ‘crafts person’ has also shifted - a book reviewer who is also a cabinet maker details how his business now works. Customised kitchen cabinets etc. are ordered from specialist manufacturers who put together these components using CNC machines. Delivery time 24 hours. Then a need for craftsmanship skills (Pye’s - craftsmanship of risk) to fit the cabinets into kitchens where walls, floors and ceilings are not always guaranteed to be square. So focus has changed from skill sets required to manufacture to problem solving required to work through real-world challenges. Another example of how not all types of work can be ‘outsourced’.  Production of cabinet components may be mass produced but installation still needs to occur in-situ. Therefore, training of young trades people need to account for work skills now required plus include generic skills to learn new technology / new skill sets as the market evolves.