I have been hearing a buzz around craftsmanship lately. For instance, the speaker at an upcoming Minneapolis’ Creative Mornings, is Sarah Schultz, the new Executive Director of the American Craft Council will be speaking on “Craft.”

And last month I attended an ArcStone’s Happ {iness} Hour focusing on the theme of “Craftsmanship.” They invited a panel of talented guests (an illustrator and muralist, an artisan baker and a violinist + cellist duo) to be on a panel to discuss what craftsmanship means to them and their work.

As an artist and a designer, this was a personally validating discussion and goes to the core of what I believe about craftsmanship. It’s encouraging that people are talking about it, practicing it and valuing it. We live in a service-driven country where it seems we don’t make anything anymore, we just import things. Even worse, we have a disposable mentality. If it’s broken, it goes to the landfill. I remember a time where you took something broken to someone with skills who could repair it. I remember when toasters lasted 20+ years.

It’s hopeful movement that more and more people are turning into makers. For one, it’s far more likely we’ll meet the person who made the object we want to purchase and that purchase is local. Because we can make a connection with the maker it just brings far more value to the object. Overall, it’s a small win for the environment when transactions are local and most likely the object in question is built to last for decades.

So what makes a person have craftmanship? How do they acquire it? Here are traits found in people with craftsmanship that I’ve witnessed:

People with Craftsmanship:

• They were not particularly good or interested in the conventional course of education. They felt they didn’t fit into that mold and were either bored or really frustrated with the process.

• They intuitively know what they needed to take their craft to the next level, whether that means traveling far from family to take specialized coursework, finding a mentor or spending long hours in the studio or rehearsal hall.

• They can’t imagine doing anything else. Their craft, it’s their calling.

• They know that in order to create the best possible outcome, you have to have right/best tools, ingredients, people, and materials.

• They know to be excellent at one’s craft — no way to sugarcoat it — it’s going to take a shit load of work. It means showing up every day, even when you don’t feel like it.

• They literally light up when they talk about their craft. It’s the hard work of love that makes them glow.

• Modesty and humility. There is uncertainty in dedicating yourself to your craft. Will anyone care? Will there be financial backing? Will there be clients and customers? But they do it anyway — they can’t imagine doing anything else.

Relatable Traits

Anyone who has worked with me knows I value craftsmanship in design. They’ve all heard me rant about design contests, low-paying online design gigs and other venues that drive down the value of design and designers. Design is in serious danger of becoming commoditized in the public’s mind.

Craft in design likely started in me as a young designer. I was creating layouts, mockups, and comps by hand. It was a slower tactile process that allowed me to think through every decision and reason that went into a piece. It built up my skill sets in drawing, working with girds, creating balance, flow, and tension within a layout, use of typography and color sense. Designing felt closer to an art form then.

The computer doesn’t make design better. It just gives us lots of options at a faster clip. Design, as a craft, still takes time, care and thoughtfulness. Design isn’t just about making the client happy, (though it’s a nice side effect), it’s about how well the design solves the problem. Good design looks “simple,” but it’s hard work getting to simple, the simple that’s needed to ensure a message can resonate clearly and make an emotional connection. That’s the craft behind good design.

To become a really good designer, one with craftsmanship, takes practice, love, collaboration and active listening. With all this, a designer can evolve to establish a recognizable style that is all her own that others value. This is what I strive for and why I keep showing up.

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