If you own a television satellite subscription, you may have stumbled upon Science Channel’s ‘How It’s Made’ series. Science Channel is the same Discovery Channel feature which hosts shows such as the Mythbusters, Stuff You Should Know and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. Even if you haven’t watched Full Episodes on their social media accounts, you may have encountered their content while surfing YouTube. From exploring the production of cars to the design and manufacturing of wine corks, the ‘How It’s Made’ series covers just about anything humanity has invented. But, after watching a few episodes, a clear mechanical design pattern develops.
Almost every feature will reveal how dull production is in reality. The mechanical arm stamping a box can be amazing at first glance, but after 1 000 or so boxes, its predictable and its mechanical movement can be quite frankly, boring. It’s not just the stamping mechanical arm. Every standard mechanical part that divides the labour into singular monotonous tasks makes production quite an unpleasant affair. Even the most mind-blowing activity can easily become a bore after its repeated so many times.
This is an important insight. Human activities are fascinating because they are so tough to replicate. Our favourite entertainers, sports stars or even scientists are achieving feats that seem unimaginable for most of us. Even they would have to work hard to repeat them.
Consider Phillippe Petit’s famous World Trade Centre walk where he walked a tight-rope across the World Trade Centre buildings. How marvellous would the feat be if anyone could do it effortlessly and repetitively? It loses almost all of its value.
This is what mechanical design teaches us. An idea, product or creation of any form has value because of its unique crafted greatness. A business that does what every other business does is a lot less valuable. A product that mimics every other product won’t create amazement. An idea must be new, tough, ferocious and non-mechanical to truly be great.