Can craftsmanship survive in the age of mass production?


First aired on Spark (15/06/12)

We live in a time when many of the products we buy are mass-produced in factories, often located overseas. Many of us seem content to sacrifice high-quality craftsmanship to save money. Mechanical engineering professor and author James L. Adams, however, believes that good design shouldn't take a back seat.

"Things that are really nicely crafted, first of all, are designed well and work well, and second of all, you really appreciate them," Adams told CBC's Nora Young during a recent interview on Spark. "If you have, say, an orange juicer that's a beautiful shape and nicely finished, and then you turn it over and you find out that the bottom is just crude, partially done casting, it kind of lets you down. So there's a complete treatment that's important."

good-products-bad-products-125.jpgAdams, author of the new book Good Products, Bad Products: Essential Elements to Achieving Superior Quality, points out that some companies appear committed to craftsmanship even while offering a mass-produced product, singling out computer manufacturer Apple as one such company. But he believes that people in North America need to start recognizing the importance of quality craftsmanship and supporting it.

"We have to make it possible for people to make a living at it. It's very hard to make a living as a custom-furniture maker now," Adams pointed out. "We ought to start making better products...I think we've got to compete on best products. If you make the best products, you'll sell, your profit margins are high, and it motivates people to make them."

In the end, it comes down to what the consumer wants and Adams argues that if enough people demand more from companies, they will get it. He would like consumers to spend more time thinking about design and craftsmanship -- what works, what needs tweaking, why they love or hate something about a product. And then let the producers know.

"I think it's important for products to improve, especially in these days, and I think consumers have the power."