Last week I was invited to visit the KPM factory – one of the oldest and best-known porcelain manufactories in the world (and one of Germany’s most famous cultural assets) – to learn more about their craftsmanship and heritage.
Walking through the different sections of the factory, it was fascinating to see the whole product process up-close, literally looking over the shoulders of the skilled craftspeople. All KPM porcelain pieces are almost exclusively produced by hand – from the artist’s sketch to the modelling and finally the painted decoration on the product. Though watching these people do their magic was great, I was also curious to see the other side of the process: there where it went wrong.
When creating something, we often discard mistakes as failures, literally putting the half-finished result with the garbage, calling it (a) waste. At KPM each product goes through no less than 12 stages from idea to the final – perfect – product before it is stamped with the signature cobalt-blue sceptre. But it weren’t the final products that fascinated me most – although very beautiful, of course! – it were the chipped pieces and complete failures that really caught my interest. Why? Because they showed quality craftsmanship, creativity and an ambition for perfection… and thrown together in a container they turned into a different kind of art.
We often see it as a sign of failure (or lack of skills) when it takes multiple tries to turn an idea into an actual product. Being at KPM and seeing/hearing about the total process to creating something, I realized that instead of seeing the route to finalization as a means to an end, it truly may be what it is all about from a creative’s perspective. We toss failures aside like pieces of broken porcelain in a container without giving it ever a second look. At least that’s how I treat things when I can’t get it right. But it’s funny that it was exactly THAT what inspired me on the tour. Where I found beauty. In how the failures together created some kind of art piece on their own, but also how we learn, improve and develop during the process. I had an “aha” moment when I realized that even professionals like the KPM team, many having over 30 years of experience, still go through the same ups & downs.
Speaking with the Chef Designer of KPM, Thomas Wenzel, this exact topic came up several times as well. Personally, it was a really great learning moment for me as it helped me see (and accept) that at every stage in your career, you have to deal with failures and improvements, if you want to deliver quality work. These things go hand in hand. It made me wonder whether going through the struggles of a creative process is actually a sign of doing it right – a sign of strength and skill. It doesn’t only take common sense and guts to turn back on the path you have been on for a while, it is also a sign of ambition and confidence when you are able to see that starting over will result in something better.
Quality is not only about the materials that are used to physically make a product; you pay for the thought process. At KPM, a cup is not just a cup, every single aspect is thought-out into the details to ensure you can fully enjoy that fresh cup of coffee in the morning. The width of the cup and the ‘ear’, the thickness of the border, the degree to which said border is bend… the design really goes way beyond what we initially would look at.
Which brings me back to my initial point: we are often so focused on the end result that we forget about what is truly important. We kind of lost sight of the true value, whether it is in the work we create or the items we buy, even though what we in the end appreciate and love the most, are the things that cost us blood, sweat & tears… and a lot of consideration.
A big thank you to the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin for a very inspiring afternoon!