Made in China

How many times do we have to say ” they don’t make them like they used to” before we go and ask ourselves- “Why don’t they make them like they used to?”

And To get all biblical on you- the root to the erosion of quality could probably be viewed through the glass of ye’ ole’ deadley sins ( – if you need a refresher).

To get more real as designers we often are faced with balancing the many things the client wants, the many facets of quality, and a fixed budget.  We’ve all been there-  I want the Porsche 911- My budget is more like a Volkswagen GTI- venerable, but different.

So where does China come in here?

There was a time where when you wanted a hammer, you went to the hardware store and bought a hammer.  In modern times with the advent of the internet, global shipping, and Home Depot- you decide you want a hammer, you research price- from artisan to cheap steel, you weigh the pros and cons and what it’s worth to you and you make your purchase.

But a Hammer is simple.  Design is not.

In design we sit down and we identify what we want to do.  An old GC way to help clients understand the complexity is a simple three pointed triangle- like a math equation you can pick two of the three and they will set the third:




You can pick the size and the budget- and that will limit your material choices.  You can pick your materials and budget- that will determine how much you can do. Or you can pick your scope and materials and that will fix the budget.

But in 2009 the picture is murkier.  The internet is powerful.  But power can’t replace experience and hands on “feel” or “quality.”  In the old days if we picked our scope and materials- we got our budget and if we could afford it we did it-  if it was too much, we either modified our plans or saved up the money to do it right.

With the surge of a global economy and a consumer soaked in internet (and HGTV)  gleaned knowledge we have more to consider in the previously tidy three factor equation.  And there are two major players: 1] Cheap semi-skilled labor and the “guy with a truck” that promises to “do the same thing for half the price.”  2]China and the supertankers full of products that promise “the same thing for half the price.”

When presented with a “want” that is more costly than what someone can afford there is a shady character hanging around the corner- “pssst- over here kid!”

The promise is “we can provide what you can’t afford at a price that you can afford.”  “We can give you a 911 for the price of a GTI.”  But it rarely comes to fruition.  Most of the time it ends up looking like a GTI with some 911 wheels and some tacky fender flares glued to an otherwise competent product.

So the truth is YOU CAN MAKE THEM LIKE THEY USED TO!  But you have to invest in the quality-  quality is intangible but really the most important thing that endures after the contractors have gone home.  You’re eye quickly goes blind to the marble or nickel finishes but you will continually be bothered by crooked, creaky, wiggly things or finishes that wear too soon.

I’m not saying that everything from china is bad- or every guy with a truck is unskilled- but you have to fight the urge to jump on things that promise what’s likely too good to be true.  If you can’t afford something done the right way-  maybe Seriously consider waiting until you can- or rethinking your scope, or being more creative with simpler materials.  The long term return will be much more satisfying.

So HOW do you build it like they used to?

1-Be realistic about your budget, scope and materials- carefully weigh what’s important

2- If someone offers the same thing for less- make them show you-  if it’s a product that “is the same thing”- get a sample, hold it in your hand, look at it installed.  If it’s the craftsman? go look in person at something you can verify he has done.

3- Remember- If you want what you want it is going to cost what it costs.  Chasing the same for less means someone somewhere is getting the short end of it.  Make sure that YOU aren’t the one getting the short end.


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