Review: Made by Hand

Even with the holidays, me underlining like crazy, and taking breaks to happy-rant on the phone to a validating and patient audience, I finished Mark Frauenfelder’s Made by Hand in three days. I told you I was devouring this book.

I’ll try to be succinct, but I fear this review will turn into yet another happy rant because Frauenfelder is coming to my alma mater, Ohio State, in April, and he commented on my previous blog post about this book. Still, I shall rally, and attempt to focus.

Why I picked Made by Hand

The subtitle to Made by Hand is “Searching for meaning in a throwaway world.” This was the clincher to me wanting this book for my birthday. If you’ll remember, my masters thesis Conceptualizing the Maker was all about a subset of users who appropriate technological artifacts for their creative projects which in turn relate the technology to their self-identity. My thesis was simply a more academic look at searching for meaning in a technological, throwaway world.

Frauenfelder spoke to maker!Binaebi with this book. In his introduction he points out that “people are rediscovering the joy of DIY” (15). I grew up in a do-it-yourself (DIY) household. My family culture is if you don’t know how to do it, you learn how by looking it up yourself.

Do-it-Yourself Culture

Frauenfelder points out that DIY a learned behavior, and without this bit of information, makes DIY scary and intimidating.

My exposure to DIYers led me to the realization that do-it-yourself activities were an essential, if not central, part of achieving a richer and more meaningful life, a life of engagement with the world (16).

What Frauenfelder calls “alpha makers,” I call “makers.” These alpha makers take it upon themselves to learn how to do something new, documenting their mistakes and triumphs online so others can benefit. The great thing about being a maker is that makers are not afraid of mistakes and they see the “world as a hackable platform” (21).

This is very different from the traditional educational system in the USA, which Frauenfelder touches later in his book. As students, we are taught there is a right way and a wrong way. The wrong way is punished, rather than seen as an opportunity to explore the space of just why that was the wrong thing to do. I will always be grateful for my elementary school experience, where I was allowed to make mistakes.

Admittedly, I would burst into tears when I made a mistake anyway, but that’s beside the point. I was only seven.

DIYers share their wisdom

Making is a process, not an end. – Mister Jalopy

This book is full of gems of wisdom from all the makers Frauenfelder met during his two year quest to becoming a maker himself. It is true wisdom because these DIYers lived through the mistakes and determined paths that work.

Frauenfelder learns that DIYers “thrive on constantly challenging themselves to learn how to make things and fix things on their own” (58). We follow Frauenfelder’s journey as he attempts to convert his lawn into a garden, build a chicken coop for six chickens (named Ethel, Daisy, Rosie,…), build cigar box guitars, ferment yogurt, and keep bees.

I cheered as Frauenfelder wrote DIY is “rewarding because you are involving yourself in the creative processes” and the “purpose of DIY is learning to take back control of your life from outside parties,” which leads to “independence” (91).

  • The unexpected joy and ego boost when people see you as a DIYer, as someone who gets things done.
  • Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” an essay that blew my mind in undergrad and brought tears to my eyes.
  • How DIYers will “go out of their way to help one another succeed.”

Taking a step back

Apologies. This post is a huge loving all over Made by Hand because he’s preaching to the  enthusiastic choir. The great thing about this book is how approachable Frauenfelder makes DIY to those who have an interest but still feel intimidated. It is intellectual, funny, reflective. He is open about his mistakes and his triumphs, and most importantly, the people he met.

DIY is about engaging the world and people around you. This book is a lovely way of encapsulating one man’s experience cannon-balling into DIY and invites others to jump in the pool.

Conceptualizing the _____


Conceptualizing the _____

Originally uploaded by Siriomi

Okay, I’m sitting in the back corner of the Hyatt bar at CHI, having a bit of a freak out. You see, I just read another set of papers, one by Daniel Fallman included, which has basically sealed the deal. I don’t want to have anything to do with the term “user.” Fallman’s paper, Design-oriented Human-computer Interaction, claims that designers are bricoleurs. I, however, think users are the same.

Because I don’t have time to be timid, I’ve emailed Fallman asking his thoughts on the matter. I’ve included a link to this sketch, which I drew during the drive down to Atlanta. Props to me for fighting my motion sickness!

Thoughts? Should I change the title of my capstone from Conceptualizing the User-Maker to Conceptualizing the Bricoleur? Argh this is so frustrating.

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?