Looking forward to 2018

I’m going to put a few stakes in the ground about interesting things I’d like to work on in 2018, by reflecting on the year just gone.

DIY / DIT (“Do It Together”)

Politically, 2017 felt like sailing into a headwind, so it seems more important than ever that we help each other create the world we want to live in ourselves. We must choose our battles, and for me, that means continuing to work on enabling grassroots, DIY activity.

Through Maker Assembly, I’ve met many inspiring people working on projects to this end (Dot Everyone, Participatory City, Eastside Projects, to name three), and I’d like to work with more people who are taking making out of the makerspace and into the wider world. As I write this, I’m excited about the developments that are happening right now here in Brighton, for example, an ambitious plan for a New, New England House.

The end of the ‘Maker Movement’

I’ve been swimming with this current since 2011, but over the last year it’s felt increasingly like the ideas of Makers, Making and The Maker Movement, as characterised by Make Media, are ready to be retired. No disrespect to Make Media, whom I love dearly, or all the people who contribute to the global maker community, of which I’m a proud member – but I think there are new ideas we need to embrace.

I’d like to see more understanding between commercial makers and amateurs, Maker Pros and antagonists. I’d like to us to try and bridge the gap between the hardware startup ideal, and the sustainable design ideal. I’d like us to continue to work on gender diversity when we talk about – or give platforms – to makers, but also think about other kinds of diversity. Personally, I’d like to learn more about kinds of making which are not within my current cultural comfort zone. I’d like us to think more about the systems in which we make, and how we can influence those, in order to have real impact.

These ideas aren’t controversial, but I think our old narratives about what making is hold us back. It’s time for a new frame of reference.

Thinking with our hands

At the beginning of the year, I worked on a project called DiDIY (“Digital DIY”) It was a European research project looking at the impact of making. I helped design and run a series of workshops with different groups of makers to understand how making affected their lives. I was lucky enough to work with two excellent researchers, one of whom, David Gauntlett, happens to be an expert in the Lego Serious Play technique, which uses Lego to help people express ideas through metaphor, characterisation and storytelling.

This format of research through hands-on making speaks to a larger question in making; one which I have been interested in for many years: If we believe) – and I do – that we can think with our hands (aka “constructionism“), then how can we use handwork to help people explore or express ideas? This is something we’ve also experimented with in Maker Assembly, but it has applications in education, innovation, strategy, research (whether market research or academic), conflict resolution, and community engagement.

Indie Creators

I’ve been delving into YouTube much more over the last year. While I have concerns about any kind of centralised platform, and its algorithmic weirdness can be very disturbing, as a media form in its own right; as a site of self-identification (compare “Youtuber” and “Maker”); and as a heaving, rich compost heap of micro-niches, it continues to amaze me.

Podcasting, while much less popular, brings much of the same richness, and – mainstream hits aside – DIY attitude, and shows signs of becoming a medium that inspires the same kind of tribal affiliation: “I am a podcaster!”. Maybe it’s too much like blogging, too hard to do, too hard to find an audience, or make it financially viable at the indie scale. But it’s still here, and a very exciting place to be a listener, or a creator.

These creators, and others including indie software developers, the self-build van community, and DIY board games designers, are giving me that buzz that for the last few years I’ve mostly found in Maker Faire, and “Making” in the narrower sense – see above.

Practicing my craft

What sets the great creators apart from the failed ones is that they kept going. They just kept making stuff until they got good at it. Go look at MKBHD’s first video if you want to see a great YouTuber finding his feet.

So while I’m still finding my way in every creative field I work in, from woodwork to writing to podcasting, I’m just trying to keep going – keep learning, keep experimenting. Just making stuff, and pushing forwards. And trying to help others do the same.

Impact and systems change

I’m circling back to where I started. In the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some inspiring people working on high impact agendas – that is, focussing their effort on systemic change in areas such as sustainable design, manufacturing, education or housing. Much of this has come about through working with the Royal College of Art and Machines Room on the New Normal exhibition.

So one of my research interests as we head into 2018, is sustainability at the systems level: sustainability in terms of environmental impact, health, communities and places, work and economics.

I think that’s enough to keep me busy for a while.