The Do Lectures 2009 - The Axeness of An Axe
Axe man Gabriel Branby explains the essence of his craft.
The axeness of an axe? What on earth does that mean I hear you ask? Well it's about starting with the essence of something, stripping things down and taking away anything that is superfluous. As Gabriel Branby, the Swedish axe manufacturer told us at The Do Lectures last weekend "Less is More". This Dao philosophy of reduction and living with nature is really embodied by The Do Lectures in every way: a small conference, in a simple tent, on a rural farm, with a small number of attendees, who sleep under canvas, and are fuelled by delicious local food and inspirational conversation. Nothing more nothing less, it's all about beautiful simplicity.The essence of an axe
But why are we talking about axes? Well having never been particularly interested in axes before I am now passionate about Gränsfor Bruks axes, thanks to Gabriel Branby's exceptional talk about his business. Like any great teacher Gabriel made what appears to be a mundane inanimate object absolutely fascinating, but really the axe is just an example.
Gabriel could be producing almost anything and he would still hold our attention, because it is his values based approach to making that is interesting. In short, if you are going to make an axe make it the best axe in the world, and don't add any bells and whistles, just make an axe.
Editor of Wired UK Ben Hammersley gets to grips with an axe
The Axe Book
Gabriel's axe heads are made from forged steel and have hickory wood handles, they are sold with The Axe Book which is at once an axe manual, product catalogue and story book. Here is an excerpt:
What we take, how and what we make, what we waste, is in fact a question of ethics. We have an unlimited responsibility for the Total. A responsibility which we try to take, but do not always succeed in. One part of this responsibility is the quality of the products and how many years the product will maintain its durability. To make a high quality product is a way to pay respect and responsibility to the customer and the user of the product. A high quality product, in the hands of those who have learned how to use it and how to look after it, will very likely be more durable.
So we like the look of Gabriel's axes, but without having much use for an axe on a daily basis we are running with the value concept of the axe. Whatever you make, make it the best it can be and embrace the essence of that thing. As Ben Hammersley, editor of Wired magazine UK, said, if you are making a magazine, make it the very best magazine you can and make sure it does all the things that only a magazine can do.
Make a newspaper
Ben suggested that the newspaper industry is having trouble because they are trying to be everything else but newspapers. Designer Tom Taylor of the Really Interesting Group, spoke about the joy of producing your own newspaper and recommended that as his Small Do. He encouraged us to "seize the means of production", which I took to mean enjoy the process of making things and understand that making a website is different from making a newspaper, which is different from making an axe, but all are equally valuable.
The inimitable Geoff McFetridge expert doodler
The one and only Geoff McFetridge
You can also take 'the axeness of the axe' quite personally as graphic designer Geoff McFetridge does. As he proclaims himself, Geoff wasn't the best artist in his class at school, but he was and still is the only Geoff McFetridge and no one does what he does as well as he does it. And, as he told us, plenty of people have tried!
Be an original
It is an excellent lesson for those creatives and small businesses out there who are afraid of their ideas being copied. Gabriel, Ben, Geoff, Adam from Method, David Rosenberg from Hycrete, Uffe Elbaeks of Kaospilots and many other speakers from The Do Lectures are simply unafraid of being copied because they all know that what they are doing is completely unique and they are the very best at doing what they do. Everything else is just a pale imitation.
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