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Graphic Design USA Magazine

When Did Craft Become Big Business?

Photographer JLPH / Cultura RF
Photographer JLPH / Cultura RF

It’s tempting to say that in 2014 Craft is big business, but of course Craft is always small business.

So when was it that we moved from the world of anonymous corporate branding, design and logos, to the world of sign-painting? Actually, in this post-credit crunch era its easy to imagine many financial institutions fantasizing about swapping the cold, discredited corporate typeface for the almost childlike appeal of handmade signage.

Able Images / Rights Managed
Able Images / Rights Managed

There’s no question that for the last few years the craft trend has functioned for trend-spotters, commentators and advertisers as short-hand for ‘authenticity’ – especially in the age of digital culture, as the physical counterbalance to digital culture. Craft, like authenticity, has become in some respects a social fetish.

Judith Wagner Fotografie / The RM Signature Collection
Judith Wagner Fotografie/The RM Signature Collection

But dig a little deeper and you can see other fascinating social, economic and visual drivers – different ways in which Craft is changing shape. One of the ways in which Craft is re-shaping the look of business is in the organization of its space. Industrial production, and traditional corporate bureaucracies organized space visually, the regulation and order of work space becomes the visible sign of operational efficiency.

Old Visuals / Royalty Free
Old Visuals / Royalty Free

The imagery in this kind of world pictures fixed, static, permanent spaces which reflects a world of relatively stable employment, linear hierarchies and centralisation. The imagery of the artisanal craft space therefore is not just signalling a different kind of work, but a whole different set of economic and business processes.  The images of these new spaces are busier, detailed, personal.

Photographer Sigrid Gombert / The RM Signature Collection
Photographer Sigrid Gombert / The RM Signature Collection

The imagery of the handmade, the artisanal, the family business reflects a real shift in the nature of work. A recent article by Boris Groysberg and Deborah Bell in the Harvard Business Review reported that “in the United States alone, family-owned businesses (FOBs) are responsible for 60% of total US employment and generate 78% of all new jobs.”

Photographer Corbis Bridge / Rights Managed
Photographer Corbis Bridge/Rights Managed

The image, and imagery of ‘family business’ is of stability – the reality is the newly unemployed generating new types of work with family members. Imagery of the artisanal is reflective of commercial reality but it also reflects the dream of ‘solidity’, ‘anchorage’ and ‘certainty’ which has immense appeal in a working world that is anything but. Imagery of small businesses or family business also signals ‘trust’ and wider values such as ‘sustainability’, the notion of something being passed down generations. The family business, like the handmade, speaks the language of provenance — of trust, we know where this product comes from.

Read more about Craft and How It is Shaping the Face of Photography on the Image Source blog.


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