My Maker Moment

My Maker Moment

Yesterday, Phil Shapiro shared two of what he calls Maker Moments in his life.

People who are makers are sometimes blessed with a moment in their lives that gives them great pride in being a maker.

His first moment was during the early nineties, when he got into a classroom with slightly retarded kids glued to the computer screen, playing his puzzle game.

When the bell rang at the end of class, the students refused to leave the computer lab, even though another class was waiting to come into the computer lab. They wanted to play “just one more puzzle.”

The second moment he shares is when someone  emails him out of the blue to tell that:

“Our school in India loves your children’s storiesand we’ve printed them all out in braille.” […]

I tried visualizing these students passing their fingers over the braille pages, reading stories I had written. Half a world away, students whom I’ll never meet were enjoying stories I conjured up in my mind. That realization gave me great joy and pride of craftsmanship.

Phil’s stories triggered  some memories of my own. I wouldn’t coin myself a maker (yet), but I am a creator, so I know the feeling he refers to. My most recent experience with creating something special for others was when I organized the event Make Stuff that Matters together with my husband last June.

We invited friends, colleagues, clients and family to our home to introduce them to all the cool tools that can create almost anything and inspire them to become makers. We hosted over 40 people during that day and since most of them had only read about 3D-printers and laser cutters, but never used one, we designed a process to get them from non-makers to makers within one day. It’s what we hoped to achieve, but we’d never done this before, so we felt very nervous whether we could pull it off.

My Maker Moment was around 4:30PM that day.

The build up to my moment starts just after lunch.

We arranged for five 3D-printers and a mobile FabLab to give people ample opportunity to actually make something themselves. During the morning we took time for people to get to know each other and create persona’s in small groups that they could design things for. It was only after lunch that we were finally ready to start using the cool tools.

We hooked up Doodle 3D to all the printers as a easy starting point for people to create their first objects. Doodle 3D is a very easy to use interface to draw something and send it to the 3D-printer. It resembles drawing on paper and works particularly good on tablets. The software allows you to determine the height and rotation of your drawing, which results in a printed object that can stand on its own.


‘Harry’ needed love, so someone Doodled a heart for him.


Typical Doodle 3D objects.

It only took about an hour after the group first started making things, when the first participants asked me about the software they could use to create proper 3D-models. A little while after that, the first person showed up with a SD-card and asked me how to print the file. Of course they didn’t know about using Cura to translate the 3D-model into a printable object, so I showed them where to download the software and how to load and save the model for printing.

More and more people were tackling more complex things within hours of their first sketches. The knowledge what software to use, and which files to export to for printing, spread through the group rapidly and one by one, the Doodle 3D’s needed to be removed from the printers so people could print proper 3D-models.

It was around 4:30PM, having spent most afternoon explaining how to use the software, the 3D-printer, fixing design issues and solving printer issues, that I stood still for a moment in the middle of my home and looked around. Everywhere around me I saw people buried in their screen, fixing details on their designs, either on their own or in pairs. People were printing cool things, and handling the machines without even asking for my help. People were smiling. People were chatting. Adults were proudly showing what they created, as if they wanted to share their delight with their teacher.




I stood there for a moment, looking at my friends, colleagues, family members, new friends (there are always wonderful people showing up whom I’ve never met before, but are in our online circles). We actually got them from non-makers to makers within a day and that was the moment that I realized our plan worked. It brought tears to my eyes then, and it brings tears to my eyes now.

My best Maker Moment so far.

What is yours?


A 3D printed Canal House: exploring the unknown

A 3D printed Canal House: exploring the unknown

Last week, DUS architects won the Sustainability Entrepreneurship Award 2014, the largest sustainability award worldwide, for their 3D print canal house project.

I have been excited about this project ever since I heard about it, because it is a project that takes time, effort and vision to pursue without knowing you’re going to succeed when you begin.

The project started with the question: What if we could 3D-print buildings? Together with Ultimaker, they created a 3D-printer of huge proportions called De KamerMaker, the Room Builder.

After building the KamerMaker in front of their office, in January this year, they moved the printer to the building site in Amsterdam to actually start printing a Canal House.

The building site was open for visits throughout the summer and in August I finally found some time while visiting Amsterdam to watch their progress.

3D Print Canal House


Variations in wall structures

Back of the KamerMaker

The inside of the KamerMaker

KamerMaker print head

Building site

Structure filled with concrete

Canal House model

Obviously, it is nowhere near a building yet. Hopefully they can keep the project running and finish building an actual house at some point in the near future.

Bonus video for those who understand Dutch: Dus-architects in DWDD.


Start your own maker space: two American stories

New Maker Spaces and FabLabs seem to spring up everywhere these days. Today I want to share two stories how people start their own space.

Chicago Public Library makerspace - visualization on wall

Chicago Public Library makerspace – visualization on wall by Katie Day, on Flickr

The first story is about a couple, both artists, who lost their home studio during the Hurricane Katrina flooding. To never be without their studio again, they bought an Airstream (a classic long silver caravan) and equipped it with all the cool tools. As they say on their website:

It is not only an American icon of a utopian dream, it is also the symbol of freedom, innovation and independence that comes to life.

They are now embarking on a tour from New York down the East Coast to Miami and Key West and do a lot of interesting stuff along the way.

I think setting up a FabLab that can move is a wonderful idea, since then you can park a FabLab right in front of your house for a couple of days and let people make stuff that matters, while having a party at the same time.

Frysklab in da house!

The FryskLab parked in front of our house for two days during our unconference Make Stuff That Matters

The second story is about starting a Maker Space in small town America. Jayson Margalus wrote on Make: about the extra challenges you face when bringing the Maker Movement to smaller communities:

Starting a makerspace in a small town comes with many challenges that spaces in cities do not face. Lower population density, lesser awareness of the Maker Movement, and lack of convenient public transit to and from the space being a few of those things.

One of the biggest challenges he describes is to get people of all sorts within the community to understand about the Maker Movement first. His advice:

You need to build a support system within your community in order to succeed. Spread the fundamental ideals of the Maker Movement: teaching, learning, growing. Share your vision with anybody who will listen. Everything else will fall into place.

Especially focusing on the message that it is about teaching, learning and growing is important in my view. The Maker Movement is all about making people Maker Literate – the digital version.


We fell in love with Bauhaus chess set, and at last we can make it!

We fell in love with Bauhaus chess set, and at last we can make it!

I never learned to play chess. At some point in time I did buy a Chess for Dummies guide, but I quickly got bored with all the rules and moves to remember, so I never got beyond the first chapter. My partner on the other hand, did learn to play chess and when I first moved in with him, a chess table was prominently present in our living room. Several house moves later, we ditched the chess set as its main job was serving as a dust collector.

Then, on August 17 2009, my partner saw  this Bauhaus chess set during our trip to East-Germany.

Bauhaus Chess Set
We both fell in love with this set and to our surprise there was a book available with all the dimension at the Bauhaus museum in Weimar. We bought the book with the intention to make it. As you may have guessed, that never happened of course. Our main obstacle: not knowing how to transfer the design to a 3D-model.

We moved on and we forgot about the plan.

Today I came across one of FabLab Amsterdam’s old projects, printing…..a Bauhaus chess set! Apparently there are more fans of this chess set and shared their 3D models on Thingiverse. I guess that’s our next print job cut out for us 😉


Making in education: let’s call it Maker Literacy

Making in education: let’s call it Maker Literacy

I’ve heard of many projects where FabLabs, Makerspaces, Hackerspaces and 3D-print companies do workshops with kids, from making their own personalized objects to building their own 3D-printer.

Today I came across this article on Edutopia, in which Sylvia Martinez explains how the Maker Movement supports learning theories that have learning by doing at the core. At the beginning of her article she says something very interesting:

“I also think that “making” shouldn’t be just making anything. Schools have a tendency to cherry-pick the easiest parts of implementing complex ideas. When we talk about making in the classroom, we have to continually raise the bar and challenge ourselves to create an academically worthy process. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to add computational technology to the making.

A computer with appropriate software means that opportunities for design, simulation, precision, accuracy, measurement, feedback, sensors, data, and programming are not just possible, but greatly enhanced. Interaction between the digital and physical world adds a level of complexity that results in greater understanding of both.”

I especially like that last sentence. You can easily stitch a model together in Tinkercad, using basic building blocks, but making that into a physical object may result in something unprintable on your machine. You can be told that it will not print, but nothing beats the experience of seeing it go wrong for yourself.

To see how the Maker Movement already enters schools, Edutopia published this wonderful story, how a boy brought making into his own school:

This story reminds me very much of the stories my generation tell about the introduction of the personal computer in their schools (and homes for some of them). I was lucky to have a father who bought an Atari 800 XL when I was about 6. Even though I was too young at that time, a few years later I did learn to type in some lines in Basic, so at that time I learned how programming worked.

I remember we were very patient computer users back then. Waiting for half an hour to load a game from a tape-deck was normal. And don’t get me started about the amount of failed attempts of loading in the last few seconds. Today, we are patiently waiting hours for our 3D-printer to finish printing. And don’t get me started about the number of restarts, because the first few layers didn’t stick to the print-bed.

Bringing the low-cost digital machines and electronics to schools is key to have more kids exposed to how stuff works and gets created in the real world. Now that we can afford to bring this set of tools into schools, we should. Just as we needed to learn about computers and the internet, we now need to learn about making. It’s time to introduce, what I would call, Maker Literacy in schools.


Your thing tells a story.

Your thing tells a story.

talkingthingAre you a maker? Have you ever in your life created an object, a thing, that solved a problem for you, or was just a nice thing to have? And if you have, did you, while constructing it, give a thought about what the end product would look like? If you’re in the hacking/maker scene, there is a high chance you didn’t. You probably created a square box to put your electronics in, or used left-over materials from your previous project. Basically, this is how all first prototypes are being made. They are meant to function first. Design is not important in this phase. And if you’re really a maker, you don’t really care about form, if you’re really honest. You can admit it, this is no crime.

As long as your thing stays at your desk or is only shared between your friends at the maker space, function being more important than form is just fine. Yet, there comes a time you’re tempted to share your thing with a much wider audience, including the ones who dó care about looks, because deep at heart you dream about making money with making things. Secretly, you’re hoping your thing goes viral, the blueprint gets bought by a company for an insane amount of money or you get enough requests for a copy you can actually start your own business building them.

But the chance of your typical maker space thing going viral is very small.

You may not realize this, but the interest in self-creation is on the rise. Think of all the maker spaces, FabLabs and hacker spaces that opened up in the past decade. It’s not the typical young pale male joining these labs, it’s also the female jewelry designers, the industrial designers looking for a space to create rapid, cheap prototypes and the occasional hedge fund broker who is desperate to work with his hands in his spare time. And think about all the people who bought a 3D printer. Many of them are not good at creating designs themselves, so they browse online to find things to download and print. These are the kind of people that care about looks and feel of an object.

So if you haven’t thought about your potential reach for the things you share online, this is the time to do exactly that. Your design tells a story, and you should think about the story you want your thing to tell before uploading your files for others to download. Take the time to add proper descriptions and tags to your object, because that is how people will find your thing. Tell about the reasons for making the thing, what problem it solves, how you created it. Perhaps you’re even hoping for others to build upon your thing. Then tell them what you think is missing, or could be added and improved.

The digital machines for making things become more and more affordable. My guess is it will not take that long for many households owning them. Therefore, if you start paying attention to your designs right now, you know you have your story ready to tell once the machines become mainstream.

*This post was inspired by the workshop Ronen Kadushin gave at ThingsCon 2014 on Story-telling based Design Process.