Some say that if you build a better mousetrap, Mother Nature will build a better mouse. Maybe so, but at least the well-constructed mousetrap will last a while longer.
With essentially the same idea in mind, a Kansas University professor developed a philosophy that promotes a return to old-fashioned designing of top-quality products that last.
Lance Rake, assistant professor of design, received a grant from KU in July 1989 to transform his ideas into a tangible form. To do so, he is designing and building an electric fan out of quality materials, emphasizing beauty and durability.
"I think people like the idea of renewing themselves through buying new stuff," Rake said. "But, there's some things you don't want to have to replace, like a fan. Someone's going to need a fan in 100 years, in 200 years."
RAKE SAID he hopes the overconsumption of the '80s will make way for a new trend that stresses quality over quantity.
"I think maybe people want to have fewer things and better things,'' he said. ``As people's values change and ideas change about what products need to be, we need to change the way we make them."
That means the designer has to take a more hands-on role in a product's development, said Rake, who considers himself a craftsman.
"What I was looking to do was investigate earlier ways of building things like it was done in pre-industrial cultures,'' he explained. ``There's a certain kind of complexity because the designer, builder and user were very close, often the same person."
Rake's philosophy of design evolved after he observed several of his architect friends building a house about 10 years ago.
"INSTEAD OF coming out with a big roll of blueprints and saying, `OK, let's build it,' they did a lot of design on the set. The making of it should be part of designing it," he said, adding that this approach requires designers to possess more skills and a knowledge of the product's inner workings.
While working in New Zealand in 1985, Rake learned how to build wooden boats, using only hand tools. He said the tools "don't do things in and of themselves. They can only extend what you can do. You have to learn how to use them."
This filled him with a great sense of accomplishment. "You can't ever feel that with a power tool," he said. "I am attempting to come back to those things making work more rewarding."
Too often people purchase poorly made, disposable items, Rake said. This causes problems that might be remedied with a movement towards sustainability instead of efficiency.
"PEOPLE ARE concerned with filling landfills and throwing so much stuff away. They complain about the quality of products," he said. "Why don't we do something about that? We should be able to make great products and we don't."
Rake's electric fan embodies his approach to design. The spoked wheel base and the fan's post are made from walnut with brass connections. The blades also are brass and will be surrounded by a large cage. It will stand about 3 feet tall when finished, probably in June.
The designer said he used a number of hand tools in the building process and used materials and parts that could be replaced if the fan breaks.
Rake demonstrated that point during a recent faculty exhibit. While making a few minor changes in the fan, he broke the base.
"I guess I showed them that it's repairable," he said with a grin.