Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Your Three Customers

54. Your Three Customers

This idea comes directly from a Seth Cardew workshop in 1991. It's of particular relevance for people making utilitarian pots.
When you're making pots for the general public to use it's relatively easy to get caught up in all sorts of games and gimmicks with the clay, with little or no regard for what, in the long run, makes it a "good" pot. There are three people who will be making the really important evaluation of your pots and none of them is you.
Initially, your pot will be judged by the person buying it. They may pick it up to examine it, fondle it, check its weight and balance, or they may just order it online from your website based solely on a photograph. Whether they're buying it for themselves or as a gift, they're the ones who must be won over by the pot's looks and who must find the price reasonable or appropriate.
Now, depending on how you conduct your sales, this may be the only person you meet or have any contact with. If you're hoping for return business, this is the person who you must please well enough for them to seek you out to buy further items.
The second person in the evaluation process, the second "customer," is the person actually using the item. It might be the buyer, might be the person receiving the gift. They have to like the looks and the feel of the object well enough to use it and to pick it out from other similar pots on the shelf. If it doesn't encourage use, how utilitarian can it be? In your own kitchen, consider the differences between the pots you use and the ones you merely own.
Third, the pot will be evaluated by the person (could still be the same person) who has to clean it. I have a friend who shops for his next mug by putting a fist inside it. If he can't wash it easily, he won't choose to drink out of it, and however good the mug may look, he's buying them to use them.
Now critics may argue with all this and claim that this places too many restrictions on the creativity and originality of the artist. By no means. Every potter is free to make sculpture or art objects with as much goof-ball self-indulgence as they can muster. And if your work is selling and your bills are getting paid, God Bless You. But pots made for use, only truly live when they're being used, and you can't force people to use your pots. Only the pots themselves, by their own virtues, can persuade their owners to use them. As the maker, you are the one who gives your pots the qualities which will attract loyal and satisfied use.
One of my professors, Bunny McBride, studies new kinds of pots by using them himself for a full year before trying to sell any to the public. In that year he serves as all three customers; choosing, using , and washing the piece. In this way he also protects himself from the likelihood of dissatisfied customers should there be some sort of mechanical defect in the pot's initial design. He teaches himself not just how to make the pot, but also how to understand its use.
Being a good potter is not something that happens accidentally. It will help if you can bring some practical kitchen experience to the enterprise. Your customers will sometimes ask, "What do you use this for?" It's part of your job to have put yourself in their shoes and to have the answer ready. It's not enough to know how you made the object, until you also understand how they will use it you're not making truly utilitarian pots.

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