MakerSpaces and Fab Labs are open, publicly-accessible workshops, which provide people with access to cutting-edge tools and technologies (both digital and analogue), which they can use for completing design projects. These sites are commonly run as collectives, with equipment gifted or purchased from donations. Much as public libraries serve to educate a resource-impoverished public, MakerSpaces and Fab Labs provide access to resources too expensive for people to readily own themselves and act to up-skill a community, by providing informal training and knowledge exchange for, and about, design and manufacturing skills.
As ‘smart objects’ become more commonplace the potential for developing, designing and tinkering with ‘Internet-of-Things’ enabled devices becomes more everyday and yet more complicated, as there will be greater technical barriers to participation (DIY with digital technologies seems understandably harder for the general public). As it becomes possible for people to make their own technologies, and to modify and customise existing ones that they own, MakerSpaces and Fab Labs will increasingly lead the way in supporting people to do just these activities.
However, we understand relatively little about how these sites work well, or badly, and about how we can use digital tools to support processes of ‘open design’ or knowledge exchange, in which design understanding is shared amongst communities. Consequently, we need to go and visit these sites to study them, in situ.
Alongside this, manufacturing will increasingly come closer to the consumer, with print-on-demand, rapid production and personalization / customization. There is a great opportunity to explore how open design platforms (web-based technologies) might loop in manufacturers, such that they can become consumers of design skills amongst design communities (setting challenges and federating or ‘crowd-sourcing’ their design and innovation requirements). But also, crucially, feeding back in to these communities and design collectives, to provide deeper understanding about design processes and techniques, thereby up-skilling the public to create a more design-informed population. Consequently, we need to spend time talking to and working with manufacturers to understand their perspectives on processes of ‘open design’ and to use both this knowledge and our work with communities in MakerSpaces to co-design a new prototype web-based ‘open design’ platform, which we can then trial with manufacturers and design communities.
The project will also work to understand how new communities of people can be brought in-to-the-fold of design activity, reducing the barriers to participation in design spaces. This will be done through the production of a simple Mobile Fab Lab, which can be toured between sites, such as schools, exposing new audiences to the tools and technologies of the MakerSpace, and fostering a broader interest in processes of ‘open design’.
- September 2015 – August 2016
- EPSRC (EP/N005848/1)
- Funded value:
- Patrick Olivier, Newcastle University (Co-Investigator)