A single whole through many

There are some things consumers tend to take for granted, but never really stop consider for a significant length of time, unless it becomes relevant due to necessity of circumstances. One of these things is that no product we have is made of one thing. The more complex an item is, the more parts it has. Duh, I hear Jimmy go. However, does Jimmy stop to consider how many different manufacturers are required to produce parts to, for example, a car? A car manufacturing plant, or about any other manufacturing plant overall, does not produce all of the materials they require to build a finished car. More of than not, major elements are produced elsewhere and then delivered to the main producer for final assembly. Windows, wheels, electrical components, and numerous other parts are build elsewhere before being added to the final product. A single car ultimately becomes a finished piece of numerous different hands putting their effort and time into building something that’s at least up to standards. Very few of these people are ever heard or seen outside their own workplace, if even there.

To use another example, you’re using some sort of screen to read this text from, be it a smartphone, tablet or a computer screen. The screen itself was probably assembled by another corporation altogether from the one that assembled the casing now before you, which contains components and PCB produced by another set of corporations. The concept is subcontractors isn’t anything new to an adult, we all know these corporations work and to what extent, yet only at few times we consider how much hell these subcontractors go through to appease the final, larger corporation at the top end of the ladder.

This is also why Kickstarters sometimes meet up with sudden unexpected difficulties when trying to produce rewards to the backers. Printable goods like shirts is easy enough, it require very little hands in the middle, but when you need to produce metallic goods, large books, decal sheets and other items, juggling between subcontractors, prices and budget becomes a rather gruesome task, especially if the Kickstarters don’t have prior experience with producing goods. Sometimes, even the pros may get their share of difficulties, especially with the global market offering all sorts of possibilities, some in lesser quality than others. As such, if you’re considering a Kickstarter of your own, it is always a good idea to set everything into stone according to possible expends at a good, early time and calculate how much surplus you could possibly have, when something inevitably goes to south. Never kid yourself, it’s a rare thing to see something going 100% right with these things.

Of course, a designer has to mind all this while designing, at least on a surface level. For example, if a designer wins a design contest for a bracelet or similar, it is generally expected that the designer would also have readied information and plans how the bracelet could be best mass produced. A simple prototype might be handcrafted in a garage or 3D printed, but the finalised design that would end up in the store shelves would have to have a solid and a direct line from the manufacturers to the stands. It just may end being impossible to produce that bracelet with speedy manufacturing due to its geometry requiring specialised craftsmen working on it, or that it simply can’t be mass produced through general means. Sometimes, a product simply has to be made by hands from start to finish, though that’s increasingly rare.

Jewellery overall could be counted as one of the few fields where subcontractors are used to procure materials rather than readily made parts. Unless you count all the different kind of locks and readily made sockets and adapters, but to keep the more romanticised view, a jeweller would obtain the materials he needs, and does the rest by hand. Turning the wire into separate links to form a chain, cutting and polishing the stones into their shinier and more aesthetically pleasing versions and making all those interesting and beautiful shapes jewellery are known for. It just might happen that, in the end, even those are mass produced in a factory somewhere.

Nevertheless, this is a reality designers seem to forget at times. It is all well and good draw nice lines on the paper and then let engineers figure out how to implement the forms into a finalised piece, or the designer could cut most of that middleman out of the way and consider these elements from the get go. Conceptual designers of course live in the world of their own, as they are not expected to take reality into notion in any significant way outside the item having to be able to exist. Even then, that’s sometimes given a leeway when it comes to certain vehicular products.

This is where the skill of being able to calculate the end-price comes in handy, as a designer has to calculate the material costs, how much the production itself will cost, how much the transportation will cost, what’s the share the end-sales maker will take and add their own hourly pay into the mix. At this point the initial price is far less than the third. You’d think in digital world this would mean that the prices would be considerably cheaper due to some of the middlemen being cut out, like physical pressings and the like, but somehow titles on Steam always start at the same price-range as physical products.

Nevertheless, when does Jimmy considering the multi-partnership manufacturing? Probably when he is looking for new bulbs for his car, or some other part that’s easily replaceable, or when he hears that the part he is looking for is no longer in production, because for some reason the manufacturing has been stopped, and nobody is making that part anymore. Even then, Jimmy probably will only curse Volvo for not making that certain little thingamajig any longer, when in reality, Volvo just had another subcontractor to manufacture the part, or bought readily designed and in production part from somewhere else. In the end, no matter how much subcontractors they have, it’s only Volvo that the consumers see.

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