It was once said that “the society based on production is only productive, not creative”. I think that French philosopher was on to something. We are so used to ubiquitous products that I sometimes feel we’ve lost touch with the creativity behind the products we use daily and put our trust in.
While machines and people build products, I think it still takes a passionate craftsman to put heart in them and to build things we love to use and take care of.
The industrial revolution and later the computing revolution had huge benefits and I’m all for that, but it sure seems that we have a lot of crappy products. Pricing pressure, modern retail distribution, and global economics have left us in a situation where practically everything we turn over has Made in China stamped on it.
It’s hard to get away from this reality, but that does not mean we have to settle for products that suck. There are people out there in both big and small organizations that still care about the experience people have using their products.
Two big brands that represent this really well are Apple and VW; I’m sure I’m not alone in this opinion. I use multiple computing devices every day and I commute daily, so I spend lots of time with these company’s products. These brands have obvious passion and attention to practical details that make the experience remarkable.
Obviously there are talented craftsmen (and craftswomen) in these big companies, but it’s not the only place you can find them. Thanks to the confluence of social media, special interest shopping sites like Pinterest, and a general desire for all things custom, it’s now possible to connect directly with makers. There is a real opportunity for individuals and small teams to design and build great products, creating a cult-like following of product fans.
My favorite discovery in this regard is the work of machinist Peter Atwood who runs a brisk small batch business through his blog, Planet Pocket Tool. He makes stuff that fits in your pocket like the Titanium G5 Prybaby pictured above sitting on my kitchen table.
This little marvel of a pry tool fits six different nut sizes, will open a craft root beer such as a Bulldog RB from the Root Beer Store and can pry open a whole lot of things that would wreck your keys and pocket knife. It’s tiny, super light, and every edge is perfectly smooth and finished. It’s sort of like having a MacBook Pro on your keychain, it just feels cool.
Sure these could be stamped out in China for nothing, but they just would not be the same – there would be no craft, no passion, and no endurance. That’s probably why every new batch of pocket tools, be they prybabies, sporks, knives, or whistles, sells out in five minutes.
I say “viva la crafters” and the next time you need something, go web searching and see if you can find someone doing something special. Is it a bad thing to pay a little extra to get a little extra?