Handmade products, despite their growing popularity online, are easy to dismiss as a twee hobby for trust-funded dilettantes (as anyone who frequents Regretsy.com knows), or a ghetto populated by packrat gearheads who’d rather spend 12 weeks building an Arduino-powered pencil sharpener than deign to use an iPad. Of course, that’s a gross oversimplification of so-called “maker culture”–it’s full of basically normal folks who just happen to care about making and using products and services with a human touch behind them. A new web video series called “Made By Hand” is setting out to document their stories with gorgeous cinematography and artful design. Here’s the first episode, about a guy who decided to start his own gin distillery:
Co.Design got in touch with Keef, the award-winning filmmaker behind “Made By Hand,” to ask him some questions about the value of handmade culture and the difference (if any) between craft and design.
What inspired your interest in handmade goods? Are you a collector of them yourself? Why make films about them–why are they any more interesting at this particular time than any other kind of product?
I grew up in a household where we spent weekends rummaging for gem finds at garage sales. At a young age, my mother educated my brother and myself so that we could identify everything from vintage bakelite ware to classic Stickley furniture. So I appreciate nice stuff as much as the next person, but collecting items is far from my interest at this point. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Consumption for consumption sake is all too prevalent, and we are exporting this culture of obsessive consumption elsewhere. This just isn’t sustainable.
I’d like to encourage a less disposable approach to how we interact with the objects that we purchase or use. This requires not only good design on the maker’s part, but a personal connection for the user as well. The narrative of most massed-produced items these days is the same. They’re made by robots and cheap labor to be uniform and often quality goes out the window. There’s nothing special about that story. The only appeal is the price. We need to get away from this kind of thinking. Now on the other hand, we have the story that comes with a handmade good. Where were the materials sourced? Who made it? Why was it made? Where was it made and under what conditions? I believe the connection between an item and its user can and should be an emotional one that is reinforced by these stories.
How do you find subjects for the film series?
I’ve been doing a good amount of research to learn about what’s going on out there in the maker community. We have a queue of subjects that we’d like to point a lens at. Obviously, we can’t make a film on every subject that wins our heart, so that comes back to the Shoppe [a section of the “Made By Hand” website that retails handmade goods curated by Keef]; part of the idea there is to help promote makers in ways other than just through these movies.
For our first film, I had heard about a young guy in my neighborhood who was just beginning to distill gin. I walked down the block, introduced myself, and knew immediately that he was going to be our first subject. Next up is a piece on local knife maker, Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn. Joel talks about finding himself at the intersection of the handmade and food movements, as well as the value of community.
There is no set number of films planned. We are just going to keep making them as frequently as possible.
Many people associate “design” with mass-produced objects and culture, rather than with artisanal or handmade artifacts. How do you see the relationship between craft and design? Are they different from each other?
Not all designers are craftspeople, and conversely, not all craftspeople are designers, but I think the most exciting and successful work comes from those makers who have a profound interest and concern for both design and craftsmanship. When it comes to more mass-produced works, Ray and Charles Eames knew this well. And of course, Jonathan Ive and Dieter Rams have left an indelible mark on the design world as well. It would be nice to see their influence permeate corporate culture even more.