If We Don’t Build It Anymore – Can We Ever Design It?

Nobody within the ranks of the Company Club aspires to be forever a worker. The lofty goals of all Company Men should be to create their own jobs rather than to simply find one. I would imagine there is scarcely one Company Officer who could manufacture a pin yet many will command profits from manufactured items shipped from the Far East. In fact as most of the World’s manufacture is outsourced to the far East we’ll consider whether this means that in the future the expertise on design and ownership will be lost in the West.

When Design Is Aided By The Workers

Can The West Design It?

Can The West Design It?

In his work, centuries ahead of his time, Adam Smith realises that one of the big causes of improvements to the manufacturing process came shortly after the division of labour became the norm. No longer did workers saunter from one machine to another but became specialists in one part of the manufacturing process.

That increased degree of specialisation resulted in significant improvements in workers ability to understand weaknesses in the current process and envisage ways in which it could be improved.

Men are much more likely to discover easier and readier methods of attaining any object, when the whole attention of their minds is directed towards that single object.
Adam Smith: The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations (Kindle Ver: Loc 117)

Smith goes on to give a great example. A boy working in a factory hundreds of years ago (in those days boys often worked in factories much as they continue to in the few nations of savages remaining on Earth) made what Smith describes as the “greatest improvements that has been made” to a steam engine as a result of wanting to find ways to play with his friends more and work less. I fail to see how such an idea born of watching the machine work day in and day out struggling with a desire to eliminate some of it’s inefficiencies and requirement for regular human interaction could be derived from simply looking at the plans in a design shop many thousands of miles from the actual machine.

Manufacturing No Longer Creates The Most Value – Culture, Ecosystems And Marketing Rule The World

When looking at PC manufacturer MSI’s (who? you all ask – which largely proves my point) attempts to sell their own PC’s directly to consumers rather than re-branded as more well known makes I realised that making the device, or even designing it is no longer where the most value is created. Many hundreds of years ago – perhaps in Smith’s time – the wonder of a machine that could produce many hundreds more items for the same amount of labour was exactly where the value was created.

Now the mark up created by brand, marketing and an understanding of culture is often significantly higher than the mark up of profit on the labour and design of the item in the first place. For example the Apple iPad 2 is barely more expensive to manufacture than the Kindle Fire yet it can be sold at more than double the price. The Chinese manufacturers who create the iPad 2 in their own country are scarcely capable of designing equivalents and despite often selling them for 1/3 as much can shift mere thousands of units.

The questions I would like you all to consider are: Will consumers continue to value brand and ecosystem over quality of hardware? How long will Chinese manufacturers fail to understand how to copy more accurately the quality designs of the Western firms and then much as the boy in our story improve these way beyond what we are then capable of? Please answer, and re-share this post as it’s one of the great challenges facing Western businesses in our time.

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