The Maker Movement… What’s Next?

by Kip Ellis

January 20, 2017

The “Maker Movement” is well underway, and active or aspirant members of the Creative Class are merging the roles of Inventor, Artist, Scientist and Entrepreneur in an active, hands-on approach to problem solving. These more integrated thinker-doers are undaunted by challenges, and empowered by the knowledge that a collective collaboration among people with different skills, aptitudes, experiences, and backgrounds offers the best hope for finding solutions. Evidence of this new way of doing things touches many aspects of our experience, from weather predictions to better mousetraps – and everything in between. 

As designers of multidisciplinary research and teaching/learning environments of all kinds and active members of an academic faculty team running an interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial maker studio, our experience helps create more idealized and appealing environments that attract, retain, and engage the Creative Class and help those who wish to learn more about this valuable paradigm by trying it out as part of a team. 

To anticipate what’s next in this evolution, it is important to understand the distinct characteristics of the Creative Class that are shaping not only process but also the design of spaces that house Maker activities.

Trinity University, Center for the Sciences & Innovation

Academic and business cultures are constantly evolving, but an undeniable sense of urgency has eclipsed a slower time: where the ideas marketplace used to evolve over months and years, it now moves in hours and days. Introspection and critique, while still a valuable part of the process, are now folded into a process that values expediency, evolution, and more rapid acceptance and abandonment of concepts in a more fluid and less predictable creative approach. In fact, the Maker Movement demands that learning experiences meet some important new goals:

  • Instant Satisfaction
  • Positive Feedback
  • Everyone Wins

Instant Satisfaction means being able to immediately evaluate an idea, hypothesis, or design to test its functionality, appeal, strengths, weaknesses, and viability as a solution to a problem. Alternatively, an unexpected or unanticipated benefit or risk may suddenly become evident. As the old saying goes, “Experience is the best teacher.” 

Quickly trying something out offers a team the benefit of immediate evaluation. This notion is important for the rapid advancement and development of ideas. We call this concept as the “Importance of Immediacy” to imply not only brevity in time, but close physical proximity. If having warm toast at breakfast matters, a toaster several houses away does little good. Close and immediate proximity provides the best chance for immediate representational development. Remote access to those types of maker devices needed to build a prototype increases delays, removes spontaneity from the equation, and wastes efforts through down time. In a world accustomed to the immediacy of digital images, there is little appetite to wait for film to be developed and images printed before determining if a photo is good.

Proximity and immediate accessibility matters!

Positive Feedback means a degrading evaluation of ideas is no longer welcome as a social construct. In fact, finding out what is working well is most often more important than observing what isn’t. Although the quest for perfection is an elusive dream, the genuine value of determining what is working well is an encouragement to make things work better. The evaluation of ideas and prototypes may inevitably provide opportunities for attack and criticism, suggestions that encourage, especially when the feedback is focused on the positive, resonate with teams.  A perfect “something” that inflicts negative consequences on others rapidly loses appeal in an age where the group dynamic is rapidly usurping the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the pleasure of the individual.

These days, the Collective matters, and a satisfactory experience for the team is now praised over the ultimate success of any given prototype. Why? The attitude may stem from a “lessons learned” approach to after-the-fact analysis. Rather than being an armchair quarterback, the value of contribution, replication, and improvement towards success is valued more than the destruction of ideas. It is often much easier to destroy than create: for this very reason, the Creative Class has seemingly lost interest in the notion of conventional, traditional, negative feedback criticism. 

Bryant University, Academic Innovation Center

Spaces that promote and intrigue not only contribute positively to the experience but also raise the energy levels of teams as individuals react to what they see or touch as a part of the prototyping experience.

Everyone Wins refers to the fact that there is not only a prize – the entire process of creation through Making benefits everyone. This notion is highly important: no effort is wasted; no idea is necessarily bad or useless. Contributions to evolutionary development can happen only when everyone is willing to engage and contribute to the process.

Herein lies perhaps the greatest innovation of the Maker Movement: that the very act of participation benefits everyone, and the ultimate success of any project is not only that the immediate team that has advanced the idea or prototype benefits, but that everyone, all members of society, may experience a more positive outcome as a result. For this reason, the Creative Class strives to explore solutions that emphasize positive impact and minimize negative consequences, whether for the environment, society as a whole, or individuals.

Great ideas and their delivery to the marketplace require the development of both business strategies and plans, and the development of this approach, in turn, evolves and informs the creative process. In the largest and most direct way, the marketplace supplies the intended users and/or beneficiaries with an evolved prototype that is ready for others to use.

The Maker experience represents a profound change in how things are being created today, and designing the spaces that encourage this new kind of collaboration is rewarding. The formal boundaries and divisions between people of different backgrounds and skills are not only dissolved by the Creative Class, they are informed by the interaction brought about by diversity of ideas, experience, and contribution to advancement. There are no free rides for the Creative Class, however, and no pre-determined outcomes when facing challenges. Nonetheless, the experience of Making offers great hope for creating a better world through innovation, and the ultimate beneficiaries of these efforts will be all of us, together.