The User-Maker and the Designer



As I’ve been analyzing Steampunk-modified keyboards the last couple of days, and pulling together my analysis of the interviews I’ve conducted thus far, I began to use the term user-maker to describe the people for whom I am attempting to help designers, well, design for.Design research is a funny beast, in that my work, unlike my fellow interaction design masters candidate peers, is not for the end-user as traditionally known. My deliverable at the end of this semester, at the end of my graduate career, will be a design framework for designers who want to empower their users to do personal appropriation.

This is very important. I am looking at a particular subset of users, the user-maker as I’ve dubbed them, and I’m designing a framework for a particular subset of designers, the designer who wishes to empower their user-maker.

What, then, is a user-maker?

There are users, and then there are user-makers, or so I theorize. There are people who will buy a laptop, and essentially leave its casing as it was bought, and then there are people who add stickers and other casemods to claim the laptop for their own. Or better yet, there are people who do an entire casemod like Datamancer, where you have to turn a key to turn on the laptop.

A user-maker is not just a user of the designed artifact. A user-maker is not just a maker, who likes to take existing objects and alter them, or make something new from scratch. A user-maker is some combination of the two, and may not realize they are such. One of my interview subjects said that most Steampunk modders probably don’t see themselves as designers, even though they are designing. This makes sense to me; I don’t consider myself a mathematician though I can do complex math (simple math, however, continues to elude and frustrate me).

A user-maker sees objects, objects that most others see as finished pieces, as creative fodder. Most people, when looking at a keyboard, do not see their next project. The same goes, I suspect, for monitors, cell phones, laptops, etc. I would add desktop machines to the list, but I feel they are a separate category because of the history of hacking and modifying desktops to suit gamer/programmer/designer needs.

This is why I believe it’s important that we designers consider designing for disassembly. People modify and hack their desktop machines because they have the ability to do so without destroying the function of the machine. Well, unless something goes wrong. Technologies like cellphones, laptops, monitors, mice, they aren’t made for that kind of interaction.

Except for the user-maker, who sees where the plastic joins together and wonders, “hmm. If I take a flat-head screwdriver, I could probably do something cool with that.”

I’m not saying every product should have the potential to be disassembled so the user-maker can transform it into something else. But what if more products were designed with disassembly in mind?

What would happen to the way we consider and use technology, especially those of us (myself included) who enjoy bringing meaning to their lives and the objects in their lives by making?

  • http://www.primopollo.com Matt Snyder

    My xbox died over the weekend, and I decided to fix it myself… yikes! I’ve found some great videos online from people that I think are some of these “user-makers”. The extent to which people have been able to take a machine apart down to the processor is simply amazing. I think we see digital devices as “keys and monitors”, but some people want to get into the guts and modify them. I think having some online support for me this week to do the same will prove to be an interesting experiment. Although I’m not going to be taking my xbox apart for fun – I’m sure I will learn some things about computers that I didn’t already know. Who knows, maybe it will inspire me to crack open other devices to modify and fix!

    • http://www.siriomi.com Binaebi

      I totally agree, I think anyone who does something and makes a tutorial about their process must be, in some fashion, a user-maker. Or at the very least, this might be the definition of a maker, and I’m adding the “user” prefix due to the fact that I’m coming from a technological design standpoint.

      You’ll have to update me on how the xbox surgery went; I’ve seen your tweets and I’m curious about your process!

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