Digital Craftsmanship — The Love of Labour in the Digital World.
William Morris, the 19th century designer, political writer and poet built a house he and his co-architect Phillip Webb dubbed ‘The Red House’ located in Upton near Bexleyheath. It’s name was derived from it’s famous red bricks, which were designed by Webb, with Morris focusing on the interiors. What makes this petite maison so special is that everything about it was designed from scratch. It’s Neo-Gothic inspired interiors, designed and sculpted by Morris. It was a deliberate decision, costing a great deal more time and effort than simply buying the newly mass-produced goods churned out by the industrial British machine at the time. Morris and Webb made it harder for themselves because of the idea of craft; the pleasure in labour.
In our Western capitalist society, not many people get this pleasure. In fact, I’d go far as to say that many don’t see it as pleasure at all. With all our zero-hour contracts and middle-management doppelganger-types, craftsmen often seem quite antiquated. Although, there are plenty of industries that practice craft but seem to have forgotten it. One of these industries is the area of the digital.
I’m primarily a front-end/web designer, but I also dabble in some graphic design. Our industries is often haunted by long-hours, nightmare clients and an under-appreciation to it’s difficulty (even from each other). But despite that, I consider myself lucky to be part of a neo-craftman zeitgiest that has swept the digital industry. In the digital industry, designers and developers; from app to web, are part of a select few of workmen/women who actively promote detailed labour, individuality and genuine authenticity. Of course, some of work is corporate ‘cake decoration’ and bureaucratic excrescence; but you’ve to pay the bills ain’t ya? Our love of problem solving and creative thinking is the lifeblood of every independent brand, charitable organisation and fringe enterprises that make up the last remnants of the liberal dream of capitalism. As a craftsman starts as an apprentice, making his/her way to a journeyman to finally finish a master; we too develop and collectively share our knowledge so we may become entrepreneurs either freelancing or in-house for an agency.
I would be remissed if I didn’t admit my bias to a profession I love. However, it’s a crime to suggest that craftsmanship is something left in the Middle Ages or something that should appauld or rendered obsolete. Evidently, the technology and efficiency of mass-production has it’s place but they offer no nourishment to that unexplainable part of our being. Like William Morris, we must ask ourselves what it is we really want from our jobs and our goods and services.
I think that personally, the digital sector has a huge role to play in the advancement of craft in the 21st century. In the ever growing ‘under-employment’ culture and the drudgery of ‘souless work’ that plagues our offices and factory floors, craft can be part of a great renaissance in how we redefine work. The digital industry, especially the Web, is only just getting started and we should start taking it’s social and cultural aspects of it’s creation into our lives.
Particularly in the area of the web, is this most misunderstood. The seperation of building websites and designing websites still permeiates the mindset of the laymen, and the art director for that matter. But it shouldn’t.