Ways of the Hand: The Text Project

Ways of the Hand:

How We Make Culture through Tinkering,

Hacking, & Upcycling

Back to Ways of the Hand: Postcards from Maker Faire

Chapter 1:  DIY as an Emergent Cultural Formation

Do-It-Yourself?  Is there any other way to make a life, other than by doing it yourself? The use of the short-hand term DIY in the United States (at least) signals a set of cultural shifts: in values, practices, and modes of production. The term has come to signify the valorization of domestic creativity and production, where the making of things is set in opposition to the consumption of mass-produced commodities.  It names the practice of making things out of disparate materials and components.  And it points to increased participation of individuals in the material production of the stuff of everyday life, ranging from the production of tools and clothing—the basics elements of human existence—to personalized aesthetic creations and creative solutions to infrastructural limitations.

Considered more broadly, the term DIY covers a range of practices that manifest different cultural logics.  Consider the exhibition produced in 2005 by the Community Museum Project in Hong Kong called: “Design by Users: In Search of Indigenous Creativity & Wisdom from Designing Tools.”  The exhibition gathered examples of designs and design strategies that emerge from everyday situations.

Street level innovation in Hong KongMany people tailor-make or alter tools to meet specific needs in their homes or workplaces.  We call this practice “design by users” or “users as designers.”  Most of these designers are not professionals; they have limited resources and their designs do not have a wide reach.  (Perhaps these “tools” are not even considered “design,” which raises the question of whether our idea of design is too confined by existing discourse.) By conventional standards, these tools are rough and carefree.  Nonetheless, they are all fresh and to-the-point, and they reflect a great many design strategies.  They embody a form of colloquial wisdom that is part of our cultural heritage.  –Curatorial Statement

Design by Users: In Search of Indigenous Creativity & Wisdom from Designing Tools


When the curator notes that “Perhaps these tools are not even considered ‘design,’” he points to one of the central questions about DIY efforts:  how do we make sense of these tools, objects, and productions that are created not in factories by credentialed “designers” but rather by people in the course of their everyday lives?  Are these “designs?” Manifestations of “design thinking?”  Works of “craftsmanship?”  Indigenous inventions?  Popular mechanics?  Emblems of lifestyle choices?  Acts of responsible living?  The creations of hobbists?  Strategies of “making do?”  Remnants of the legacy of our ancestors the Homo habilis?

In the US, the term DIY names the creative logic at the heart of an emergent cultural formation that is widely referred to as “Makers’ Culture.”  In 2008, the Institute for the Future created a graphic map called “The Future of Making” that identified the key elements of this new cultural formation.  The map represents the relationship between a range of social and technological forces that intersect to “transform how goods, services, and experiences…will be designed manufactured, and distributed over the next decade.”

Future of Making Map by the Institute for the FutureAn emerging do-it-yourself culture of “makers” is boldly voiding warranties to tweak, hack, and customize the products they buy.  And what they can’t purchase, they build from scratch. Meanwhile, flexible manufacturing technologies on the horizon will change fabrication from massive and centralized to lightweight and ad hoc.  These trends sit atop a platform of grassroots economics—new market structures developing online that embody a shift from stores and sales to communities and connections.  –IFTF Technology Horizons Future of Making Map  (www.iftf.org)

The map identifies key drivers of the emergent cultural form:  1) the development of new platforms for the creation of social relationships; 2) the spread of ecologically responsible practices, 3) the rise of the professional “amateurs;” 4) the increase in affordable tools of production and manufacturing; 5) the increased availability of open-source and customizable software and development tools; and 6) the reinvigorated appreciation for physical and hands-on creative experiences.  In addition to identifying these driving forces—that serve as the broad context for the creation of this mapping exercise–the map also identifies important trends that are serve as the conceptual infrastructure of this new cultural formation.  These trends include:  1) The blossoming of networks of creative makers who are moving away from working alone in a garage to working collaboratively in community meet-up spaces; 2)  the design of new currencies of economic exchange that include new community-based systems of value creation and exchange; 3) the widescale use of software design and fabrication tools that are available for use on personal computers; 4) the development of community-based sites that support lightweight manufacturing, tool sharing, and creative collaboration;  5) the spread of a critical attitude towards the notions of planned obsolescence, closed intellectual property, and the privatization of common culture; and 6) the increased engagement of individuals in collaborative efforts of content creation, problem-solving, and innovation.

Of all the signposts registered on this “Future of Making” map, one of the most significant in terms of its popularity and its ability to foster the creation of new networks is Maker Faire.

Next Chapter:  History of Maker Faire


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