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’.

Project details

September 2015 – August 2016
EPSRC (EP/N005848/1)
Funded value:
  • Patrick Olivier, Newcastle University (Co-Investigator)

NORTH Lab investigators

Dave Kirk

I am Professor of Digital Living in the School of Computer and Information Science. I study Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and the design of interactive computational technologies. I'm particularly interested in design research methods and the ways in which technology design can be centred on rich understanding of user experiences, cultures and contexts.
I have previously held positions as Senior Lecturer of Experience-Centred Design and then Reader in Cultural Computing at Newcastle University, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction in the Mixed Reality Lab and School of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham, and as a post-doc in the Socio-Digital Systems group at Microsoft Research Cambridge. My background is in Psychology (BSc) and Ergonomics (MSc) with a PhD in Computer Science. Over the years my work has been heavily influenced by the sociologists, philosophers and designers that I've collaborated with and consequently I take a design-led, social science orientation to understanding human experience and its application to the design of digital technologies. Accordingly, and although trained as an experimental scientist, my research is increasingly based on qualitative methods and design-research practices.

View Profile Send Email

David Green

David Green was a senior researcher at Northumbria University, working on the EPSRC-funded “Design Your Own Future” project,exploring connections between communities of professional and non-professional makers. With a background in documentary making,he is a co-founder of Cinehack, who organize DIY filmmaking workshops and publish blueprints for low-cost media making apparatus.He has participated in and co-organized, several CHI workshops.

View Profile Send Email

Other Projects