Artisan Manufacturing: Bringing a Touch of Humanity Into the Home

Published: June 17, 2024

What does a custom faucet made by artisan hands have in common with the self-check-out line at the pharmacy?

If you said “nothing,” you’re correct.

A recent experience got me thinking about the significant difference between human labor and inhuman machines. I was feeling under the weather and stopped off at my local branch of a national chain pharmacy to grab some cold medicine. Anxious to get home and take the medicine, I bee-lined it to the self-checkout. I scanned the medicine and got ready to swipe my card. Beep. Beep. Beep. “Age-restricted item…help is on the way,” the machine announced with all the warmth of a bored digital zombie. I glanced over to the lone human cashier in the store, who all too predictably was busy assisting a long line of customers. I sighed, and looked around for a friendly human face to come to the rescue.

Finally, after a couple of minutes, which feels like an eternity when you’re not feeling 100-percent, a friendly clerk came over to scan my ID and help me complete the purchase. “Oh, my whole family has been passing around the sniffles. I hope this helps,” she said with empathy. I thanked her and proceeded with my transaction. “Please place the item in the bagging area,” the machine demanded. But it was already there. “Please place the item in the bagging area” it repeated. “Help is on the way…” I stared at the machine and shook my head in mild irritation. A nearby customer noticed and commiserated, “Technology. Gotta love it, right?” I nodded, appreciating the sentiment.

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Whether it’s the self-checkout or an irritating automated phone tree purposely designed to make it as hard as possible for you to reach a live human being, the scenes are all too familiar. Human interaction is being reduced and supplanted by technology. But at what cost?

Artisan or AI?

Don’t get me wrong. Technology has given us amazing things…things that enhance human connections. The telephone made it possible to hear each other’s voice from miles away. We can send a text or email to check on a friend. The list goes on. But none of these things can replace the warmth of interacting in-person with another human. Reading an email isn’t the same as sharing a pleasant handshake or a warm hug. And ordering a widget online isn’t the same experience as stopping by your neighborhood hardware store. We’re a social species and we crave connection with other living beings, not zeros and ones. Not robots. Not even AI-generated avatars, although they can make us look younger than we actually are. At our core, we need other sentient beings. Without them, we become increasingly alienated.

I would also argue that this basic human need – to connect with other living beings – extends to the type of physical environment we live in. There’s a reason why taking a walk out in nature has been shown to lower blood pressure and elevate mood. Good luck trying to achieve those benefits by strolling through a data center.

So, what does all of this have to do with artisan manufacturing? If the above sentiments don’t resonate with you, probably nothing. But if you believe, like I do, that the wonderful benefits of technology have come with a dehumanizing price tag, then read on.

Beyond the obvious benefit of providing productive jobs, handcrafted manufacturing celebrates artisanship and enables you to surround yourself with the handiwork of fellow human beings. I believe there’s great value in that.

Unlike mass-production manufacturing which seeks to minimize human interaction with the product, artisan manufacturing is all about the human touch. Hence the term “artisan.” From casting or forging, to finishing, testing and assembly, artisan manufacturing prides itself on the hands-on contribution of human beings. And whereas mass produced product is typically “buy it as you see it,“ artisan products are often “made-to-order,” allowing for customization. Put simply and romantically, artisan goods are infused with humanity.

This human handcrafting often results in there being slight differences in the finish of the final product, something that makes each individual piece subtly unique and special. There’s a beauty in the imperfection of artisan fare. I suspect it resonates because it reflects our humanity, which by definition is imperfect, yet wonderfully authentic. If artisan products could talk, they’d proudly tell you “I was made by human hands, not a machine.” In contrast, a mass-produced product would tell you “Beep Blop Bloop” or something designed to make you feel the opposite of warm and connected.

Both mass-produced and artisan-crafted products have value. But, for me – and I suspect for many fellow human beings – products produced by artisan hands have an added intrinsic worth. Knowing that a product was created by a skilled professional just for me means something. It’s a symbol of quality and craftsmanship. A handmade item represents human thoughtfulness and attention to detail, a representation of time invested. It tells a story. If I had to choose which kind of product I want in my home, there’s no contest. I want one that is infused with humanity.

It’s admittedly beyond my pay grade to know how this “computers replacing humans” trajectory is going to turn out. That said, I have a hunch – a good old fashioned human hunch – that it’s going to reduce, not increase, human warmth and connection. One small way to mitigate against this is to put greater value on objects created by human hands. Beyond supporting and celebrating artisanship, surround yourself with the handiwork of fellow human beings. I believe there’s value in that.

What do you think?

—Noah Taft is chief marketing officer for California Faucets

Photo credit: California Faucets


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