Before I was fully sentient I'm told there was an expectation of quality in the products people bought. It may have been a result of the wars, the extremely strong and balanced economy, or a national pride in manufacturing. It was probably a combination - it usually is. When someone paid for something, they knew that it would do its job perfectly and thousands of times, unless its job was to do it once, and then it would do that with memorable grace.
Insofar as this was ever actually true, things have since changed. I won't say the sky is falling. It's not falling. The sky is fine. There's a good reason that cheap products have ruled the last three decades. It's what people want. If you can make something cheaply enough that replacing it is easier than fixing it, and the buyer feels good about this mutual expectation, then why not? Both parties win. (Ignoring, of course, the third party - the maker.)
Actually, no. Let's not ignore the maker. The maker is the only other person in the world who has had a personal relationship with what you're about to buy, and that's an incredibly powerful relationship. In fact, this is what this whole post is about.
For any given product, the only people who can ensure that it's built with pride are the people who built it. In that mystical time period I ignorantly and nostalgically described in the first paragraph, makers were not divorced from the customers. This is the time period that generated the shop crane in my shop that hasn't been oiled in ten years and can still tear a wall out of the ground. They made Steelcase desks. Their milk bottles are still in circulation. These people were completely serious.
Most such companies have fallen away, but they're not all gone. What's really interesting to me, though, is that recently there's been something in the air: new companies are starting with these same principles as their focus.
Somebody, somewhere, will sell you the best shop crane in the world. You can buy a guitar that will sound like angels even after you drive a railroad tie with it. You can get a case for your iPad that is made with more passion than the tablet it holds. There's a sweatshirt for sale that comes with a ten year guarantee, and another that will last a lifetime. Shinola is way ahead of me on the subject of watches and bicycles.
I don't think this shift toward quality is happening in spite of our brutalized economy but because of it. We've all buckled down. We've been buckled down. We're not all fearless about money yet; we may never be. But we've also become reacquainted with the experience of products that last. Maybe they're the only ones we still have.
In the last year the conversation seems to have changed from how much we don't have to how great it feels to use and cherish truly exceptional things. Just a few of them - nothing gawdy - it's not like we're rich yet. Just sometimes.. for the things that matter.
I feel very lucky to be around right now. I'm excited to see what my generation will do with our era. I'll continue my efforts to improve as a designer and maker of things, and will strive to be a member in it.