During our very first day of Industrial Design school, our professor Dan Chelsea warned us fresh-faced sophomores of the ignorance we'd face during our careers. As he tackled the question "What is industrial design?" he recounted trying to explain the profession to a seatmate on an airplane: "You know, we design physical products, like telephones, blenders and Walkmen*," he said. (*It was the '90s.)
"But I thought those things just came out of the factory like that," the woman replied.
This unbelievable notion that factories are magical places where one pushes a button and finished products pop out is depressingly common. While this ignorance is a mere annoyance to designers making small talk, it can become more problematic when a would-be politician suffers from it and begins promising things he cannot possibly deliver. Watch this snippet from Donald Trump's speech at Virginia's Liberty University earlier this week:
What we all know is that Apple makes their iPhones in China, at Foxconn's factories. Where our knowledge base differs is this: Whereas Core77 readers have a decent grasp of how things are made, I think Donald Trump believes that you pour marbles into one end of the factory and iPhones just start shooting out of the other end.
We designers know that something as complicated as an iPhone is made from components. Those components come from suppliers. Sometimes those suppliers have sub-suppliers. These suppliers all use raw materials. Backing up all the way, at some point those raw materials are mined from the earth. Those raw materials travel through this magical thing called a supply chain where a variety of skilled and unskilled labor processes it into highly specific parts. These parts arrive by truck at Foxconn's facilities, where an army of Chinese laborers that are paid less than U.S. laborers assemble them into iPhones.
That crucial supply chain is largely in Asia. The suppliers set up shop in and around China for reasons of geographical proximity. They're keen to quickly get components in and finished products out. Chinese manufacturers and municipalities will go to such great lengths to keep that supply chain efficient that, according to The Economist,
At [Hewlett-Packard's] prodding, [the city of] Chongqing built a railway line to carry products overland through Kazakhstan into Europe, reducing transit time from 35 days to 22. Today roughly one in every four laptops in the world is made there. "It would be hard [for other countries] to recreate what China has done," says [HP executive Stuart] Pann. "The economics aren't there [in other countries], nor are the sub-suppliers."
Trump's proposal seems to suggest that Apple simply pulls out of China, builds a new factory in America, and starts making iPhones there. How does that work, when all of the suppliers are in Asia? Where do we get the marbles? Do you think America has the political will to build a new railroad for Apple, and if so, how long would that take? For reference, New York City has been trying to add a new subway line for over 100 years; we finally started building it in 2007 and it's still not finished.
This idea that Apple can just turn on a new factory over here and hire American workers to make iPhones—Motherboard reckons it would add a mere $50 to the price tag to use American laborers for final assembly—is pure fantasy.
Well, perhaps Trump would say, "Then let's just use all American suppliers, too." Yeah, that's not going to happen either, and here's one very good reason why:
As Mike Rowe has been lamenting for years, America has simply stopped training their workforce in a set of formerly crucial skills. Factories don't just need assembly lines and assembly line workers, they need that massive supportive infrastructure around it, and in America that infrastructure has largely evaporated. American manufacturing is never going to come back on the scale that we once enjoyed. The best we can endeavor to accomplish are small- and medium-sized manufacturing outfits, and some of these do thrive in America, as we'll look at in a future series.
Whatever gripes I may have with Apple, them not being a good corporate citizen is not one of them. Them supposedly being part of the problem with the decline of American manufacturing is not one of them. Apple manufactures the Mac Pro in America because it makes good financial sense to, since the relevant suppliers for that particular product are here. Apple sources what American parts they can, with a reported "Thirty-one of the 50 states [providing] parts, materials, or equipment to make Apple products."
In the past decade, Apple's directly employed workforce has increased by a factor of just under six. When Apple does well, America does well; putting up all those Apple stores alone has employed 20,000 American construction workers to build them and 30,000 American employees to staff them. Adding these workers up with their internal employees, local suppliers and app developers, Apple reckons they've created or supported 1.9 million American jobs as of last month.
If you want to bash Apple for their designs, that's fair game, it's subjective. But I can objectively say that criticizing their manufacturing choices and concocting this fantasy that they can efficiently be forced to produce here merely demonstrates a profound ignorance of how things are actually made. Apple can and does help "make America great again," but not in the way that the misguided Trump envisions.
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Can we not use Core77 as platform for political discussion? As we head into election season, we in the US are all going to be bombarded with it from just about every conceivable angle angle and there are many other venues to sound off on your thoughts ands observations about XYZ candidate or party.
If you think Design as a concept or a profession is divorced from politics you are in for a big shock some day. "Politics" as we see it in the campaigning is indeed a lot of bluster, false promises, and outright lies, all often driven largely by ignorance and ego. But Politics eventually finds its way to Policy, and that is where the rubber hits the road. Policy is law and regulations, trade negotiations, union contracts, and worst of all Protectionism, usually local and at the expense of everyone else. My point is that forgetting the aspect here of how insulting ignorant Mr. Trump (and I'd say almost every candidate) is about real trade, manufacturing processes, we all pay the price for how it translates into Policy. You need to understand why, for example, it is that a certain design path you may think is the right one to use but is off the table due to it's higher cost, is almost always related to someone's political decision at some point in the past.
And this is not just from the conservative side of politics either. All our high costs of tooling and manufacturing in the US? You can thank the various unions for forcing insanely high wages and benefits from all the US manufacturers for those costs being pushed along to the customer. Or for encouraging those companies to just move their whole operations overseas. Either way, that all comes back to us as designers and consumers.
Still, if Trump ever was to be President we'd all have much bigger things to worry about than his notions of how to get iPhones made in the US, but the discussion here is amply valid.
Hi Dan and Carlos,
I don’t consider anything within this article to contain “political discussion,” “political opinion” or “political debate” at all. If you read the article carefully you’ll notice I’ve not mentioned either of the two parties, nor written a single word in defense or attack of either, nor criticized or supported either party’s policies, let alone mentioned any of them.
What the article does contain, IMO, is the latter half of the two phrases you’ve written, “discussion” and “opinion.” (I don’t see much of the way in “debate,” as I don’t consider it debatable that manufacturing sophisticated consumer electronics requires suppliers.)
As far as it being objective, the points about manufacturing are objective facts. That Trump clearly does not understand these facts is my subjective opinion.
Hi Rain, thanks for the reply. I'll just close the book on this one by saying that I absolutely disagree on just about every point, but I respect that you tried to clarify.
I believe this article is needed, I am about to start studying product design at university and one of my biggest beliefs is the effect of design on the everyday life, one part of that being politics. We must consider every part of society to become effective designers for the 21st century.
I don't think this is necessarily a solely political discussion. Actually, I find that Core77 can be a really interesting platform for discussing global issues from the designers' and manufacturers' points of view. To this end, I think that this article is relevant and valuable.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that the article could have been written more objectively. But the fact is, it wasn't. At all. What could have been an interesting read and discussion was instead injected with the venom of political opinion and snark.
Personaly I find this to be an interesting read. I think it's more about the intricacy of a global production process and how the lack of mainstream design culture affects public perception (even political propaganda) and less about Donald Trump.
Aramis - I see your point, but the overview of the global production process is sandwiched between blatant political snarks and jabs (including the obviously loaded headline).
Every action has political ideology embedded within. If you are so ignorant to think that design is not political, or economic you are simply a designer. Great article. Personally I think we need to address the socioeconomic side of design. different idea though
On the last few products (cookware) I've had quoted we really wanted to build the entire product in America. Unfortunately while the per piece price in the US was actually slightly cheaper than in China (I was very surprised by that) the tooling was outrageous in the US. The tooling here was $130K per tool, and in China it was $30K. We had four different designs we wanted to bring to market, so our cost to get the program up and running would have been $520K in the US, vs $120K in China.
Rob, thanks for this input, for mentioning your location and spelling the decision out with the numbers; it's always illuminating to hear what's happening on-the-ground in different areas. Do you think, btw, that the T&D issue will eventually be addressed here, or do you think that ship has sailed? I have a bad feeling it's the latter but I always hope for the former.
"America has simply stopped training their workforce in a set of formerly crucial skills."
Hit the nail on the head, plenty of people would love to have those kinds of skilled jobs but no one wants to train them. It is amazing how many places lament the lack of skilled workers but refuse to hire entry level people into those trades so that skilled workers would later be available. At this point I do not know of a single manufacturing machine shop that has any apprentice positions. When businesses won't invest in these they pay later in a lack of workers.
As for Snark, Rain Noe is a master of it and its presence in his articles is a constant that has nothing to do with politics.
and why are you wantonly wasting pixels to tell this audience that trump is an ignorant gasbag ? why not, for the sake of efficiency, parse it back to: Trump's Plan ... Demonstrates Complete Ignorance.
Trump is a rich developer, used to dealing with creatives in broad strokes rather than on their terms. He would not be anyone's idea of a great client.
America did well in the so called space race, but it seems the country has fallen far behind in the manufacturing race. Even Boeing is manufacturing in China now. Is it worth the investment to build up the infrastructure necessary for America to be a lead player in manufacturing, or does America have a different role to play in the global economy?
I really agree w/ Dan Hamilton. I don't think though that certain realities can be ignored.
I think the problem w/ Apple's response is that they take no responsibility for the fact that they advocated for tax breaks and other export subsidies to move their manufacturing offshore in the mid 90's. They are also members of organizations that advocate for stifling education whenever possible
This is extremely hypocritical when you find out that Donald Trump's own campaign merchandise and clothing range is manufactured in China, for the same advantageous reasons as Apple (cheap labour). Bernie Sander's merchandise is actually made in the USA but you don't see him saying anything about companies moving their production to the USA, he understands the nature of capitalism better than Trump :'D
Agree that this is too political for this website, plus the article is loaded with biased facts to support the opinion of the writer. I doubt dirty industrial apple complex would like to manufacture elsewhere as it would hurt its profitability.
Pretty sure Trump knows how a factory works. But you're right bud, let's just do nothing. Let's keep the poor on welfare. Who cares. Factory jobs? That's just stupid. And why should American companies have to pay taxes and not shelter money? Trump is dumb he thinks marbles go in. Blah blah blah.. You're right, maybe we will just wait for the next Apple to come around. They will surely build factories here. Totally. Great plan.
I'm wondering, just wondering. What percentage of Core77 readers seriously support Donald Trump?
You should know better than to let facts stand in the way of a good sound bite.
Yew know it.