Blue Collar Design
The construction industry, to use a loose term, is by and large concerned with implementing designs on a one-by-one basis. each part of the house, high-rise, or landscape, is worked over by an individual, and brought to completion as part of a hands-on process. Concrete foundations are formed by people with tape measures and transits, walls are framed one at a time with a hammer or nail gun, and landscapes are brought (literally) to fruition by pick and shovel. Contrast this with large-scale mass-production, where a million widgets are produced as part of an assembly line.
The point to pay attention to is that in an assembly line, quality control is implemented as adjustments to the machines producing parts. In a house, quality control is done constantly, with every swing of the hammer. If something doesn't fit, it's a matter of trimming, whacking, splitting the difference or otherwise changing what's right in front of you. Snap judgments are intrinsic to the assembly process of a house, since the real world never works out exactly the way you want it to.
The carpenter can be a designer as much as the architect, depending on how much is specified in a blueprint. The carpenter sometimes has a great deal of responsibility for working out the details of trim and siding. The landscaper might be taking a very general planting plan and working out the ideal placement of stones and plants by hand, with soil and a shovel. There is sometimes more design work going on in the head of a skilled tradesperson as in the head of a mediocre architect. At times, the architect's plan must be revised to accommodate the reality of wood and drywall, where only someone on the building site can get that darn beam to actually fit into the ceiling space, and only with a good deal of creative chiseling.
Where this stops being true is in the use of standardized parts. Plumbing and electrical work is primarily built around premade parts, such as pipe fittings and electrical boxes. Windows used to be built into houses with a fairly involved and skilled process, but most windows these days are built in one piece, to be screwed quickly to the outside if a house, with little or no fine corrections. There is a conscious effort on the part of manufacturers to provide parts that require less skill (and therefore money) to install. In short, an attempt to put as much mass-production in a house.
How does your design integrate the best of these two extremes? A design for a yacht can't be put on an assembly line, but a plastic bottle pretty much needs to be. What about a table, however? How much are you going to use readily available hardware and production machining, and how much are you going to depend on having reliable woodworkers taking care of the details? What about a bike? If you're planning on producing only two hundred of them, what difference does it make to keep the production in your home country, rather than outsourcing? Are you going to weld up your own components like forks and handlebars, or purchase from another OEM? This is not to say that skilled labor will always be the better alternative - mass production is here for a reason. It's finding the right mix for your product that can put that touch of excellence on your product.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team