The introductory lecture for the design and technology series was given by the head of department, Craig Whittet. He started with a film about Brooks saddles featuring a number of the company’s highly skilled employees who have decades of experience in traditional manufacturing techniques.
He then went on to discus the demise of traditional manufacturing techniques and compare hand crafted objects with mass manufactured objects. One comparison he made was between a titanium bike frame that can be shipped from China for less than £400 and a Jeff Jones titanium bike frame costing around ten times as much.
LSL Titanium bike frame available from China for under £400
Titanium Jones frame available for around £4000
The supposed reason for the great difference in price is down to Jeff Jones’ story - he was fed up with where the market was with frames and forks so decided to begin making them himself, on a small scale in the U.S. From here, the business grew and developed a cult brand with the ethos of being high quality and made in the U.S. However, after a little research, I discovered that since then, Jones began to outsource his manufacturing: he first got Merlin in the U.S to manufacture the high quality titanium frames but then Merlin refused to continue manufacturing with titanium so he went back and started to make them himself until mass production could start in Taiwan. The frames made in Taiwan retail for a similar value as the original frames. Now the question begging to be asked is why the difference in price? The answer is obviously purely down to branding, a brand which was built on high quality, crafted objects. I didn’t think the price seemed justifiable in the first place but now it seems even less so.
I think in many situations I’d trust a machine to do certain jobs over a human but at the same time, I see the value in craft, it would depend on the context. For instance, with the bike, I would trust a machine to do the job more reliably and with higher precision but put the scenario in a more artistic context and I think I’d prefer the opposite. Take one of Grayson Perry’s embroideries, he sketches them out on a graphics pad and then basically presses the print button and out it pops.
Map of truths and beliefs, Grayson Perry
For me, although the final results are aesthetically pleasing, I would be far more impressed by an embroidery that was the result of more traditional techniques which require lots of time and skill. I feel getting a machine to do the job is almost as much of a cop out as an artist getting unpaid apprentices to bring their envisioned idea to reality.
Chinese hand-made folk embroidery
Inevitably, technology will make advances and replace traditional skills which is a shame in many cases but at the same time, it makes lives easier - this being said, we have to also consider the jobs being replaced, it very much depends on the skill being lost (how monotonous is the job, whats it for, why do we need so many?) and whether a robot should be taking over a person’s salary. It seems a futile point to argue, I think it would be unwise to propose a rule, generalising skills that shouldn’t be lost to technology and others which can be replaced with technology. Although, they do it with buildings, perhaps we should have grade listed skills, I’m glad it’s not a decision I’ve got to make.