How is the word engineers like most. How does it work? How is it made? How can it be improved? How should it be done? How is a command and control word, as the engineer’s primary desire is to understand and solve problems, with 'bettering our lot' being the ultimate goal.
Leaving school at sixteen and 'enlisting' as an apprentice at the local factory, my former engineering training was very much a pseudo military affair. Apprentices, workers and instructors were known by their surnames only in this world of metal bashing, turning and forming. Here I was “Oi.. Powell” and both college and factory strictly monitored attendance through our clocking in and out - four times a day.
So too was its graphical language; with the accurately callibrated rows and columns of the grid being the law of the land. Tidiness and order echoed a strict military-esque ethos of the desire for command and control in the factory and workshop. Tools were always to be returned to their rightful place at the end of a day's shift, with any location ‘silhouettes’ still visible on the display board triggering the order for a tactical 'sweep' of the workshop. The workshop manager ran the place like a sergeant major and no one, without exception, was allowed out until the item in question had been found and returned to its rightfull place, ensuring that the set was again complete.
Perhaps then this early indoctrination is what lies behind my appreciation of these workshop display boards. Laid out with military precision, the everyday and inanimate take on the role of incredible importance in a workshop environment. Without them things just wouldn't work, and to the the engineer if it functions perfectly then it's a beautiful thing (literally). Each component has its own personality, distinction and usefulness, but at the same time a sense of belonging to the whole. So when it comes to the selection from a category, it’s the subtle differences that count, and of course God is in the details.
Dating back to the 50s, 60s and 70s these display boards, from my university's workshops, represent a time long gone now; one that has been replaced by the catalogue or online gallery. This touchy feely world of real things, from a long lineage of British manufacturing (after all these companies literally helped kick-start the industrial revolution), seem almost quaint and nostalgic in a world now dominated by CAD, virtual representation and hands off 3D printing.
Generations before Things Organized Neatly became an internet sensation, engineers were positioning, spacing out and aligning things with an obsessional meticulousness that indicated their own desire to command and control the world... through the successful design and manufacture of objects.
So... “ATTENNNNNTIOOON!!! little screws, nuts, fasteners and fixings. Get into line and know your place!” … “You are needed for a greater cause than merely the fixing of two parts together…. Your fate is to help inform and sustain industrial empires... for the greater good of mankind!”
How is a very important little word.
Text and images by Graham Powell
Images © Obsessionistas (a selection of some of BIAD's 3D workshop's display boards)