makers


This weekend, I experienced a series of aha moments, one being that I’ve turned into a type of person that used to bug me. And that type of person is someone who uses the word “maker”. When I interviewed Mike Perry for Design by the Book in 2008, he referred to himself as a “maker.” It was the first time I’d heard someone use that term in an earnest way. I had heard the word used for a while, and for some reason, it always got under my skin. It seemed like a lazy way to get out of describing what you really do, or to gloss over a perhaps less-than focused practice or studio. But over the past seven years, I’ve watched the design scene grow and change into one that makes the term “maker” more and more appropriate. As designers and artists set out on their own to start their own businesses, they’re using all sorts of skills and testing the waters of different media and disciplines. What I used to see as a slackery unwillingness to commit now feels like a thoroughly modern and accurate way to describe someone who is committed to working with his or her hands, in whatever form or style that takes.

I touched on this idea of multidisciplinary design/designers during my talk with Maxwell the other week, and it’s been on my mind 24/7 since then. I’m really starting to feel energized and excited about the cross-pollination happening in design right now. Designers seem more likely to work with other creative industries, whether it’s food, music or fashion. I know different creative fields have always collaborated, but it seems we’re on the cusp of something exciting — mainly a new breed of designers who are unwilling to narrow their job description because they truly embrace the idea of working by hand in whatever way excites and inspires them. In that spirit, I wanted to share this print from one of my favorite design teams, OMFG Co. in Portland, Oregon. OMFG makes this simple but bold print that’s the perfect way to celebrate people making things — anything that makes them happy. Click here to check out the print online and pick up a copy ($30 each). (Image via Jenya Andreevxo, grace

Aoife

As someone who has worked in textiles for fashion and interiors, interactive media, research and science communication and now with concrete also, I’ve always had trouble defining myself and resisted the term ‘maker’ and ‘designer maker’ which has been quite prevalent in the UK in the last few years but I saw this quote this week and it really resonated with me, as does your post.
‘All I want to be is a person who makes things and thinks about them’ – John Maeda

Nicole

I have long thought of myself as a “Maker of Things.” Almost any outlet will do, and it doesn’t even really matter if the end product is of any use to me. I have great admiration for those who can harness that need to create, and make a living at it.
Love the John Maeda quote.

Julie

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reminding me to follow all of my passions, not just the one that I have a degree in.

Amber@ don't sew angry

I agree. “maker” or “creative” are the only two words that truly define the motivation of my pursuits, and they are general. I’ve had all sorts of jobs, but have been constantly challenged by the question “what do you do?”. The more I’ve tried to seal myself in a specific profession, the less I feel it fits and the less freedom I have to create. Besides, instead of having a profession that handles only one of our interests, we can use this word to embody all of them. That, in turn, makes what we do more rich. Thank you for acknowledging this.

JenO

Maker? Creative? Part of this want of a good term comes, I think, from the fact that we really don’t teach children how to explore creativity in our education system. We do however require them to define who they are by what career path they will take. Problem solving creative minds do live large, which defies a career label. Maybe if we taught all children how to “make”, the term would be less exotic, and the lifestyle less suspect.

Mathew @ OMFGCO

Traditionally, I think, we were all told to have really specifically-titled business cards.

For us, embracing the multi-disciplinary concept of “thing makers” has led us to work we wouldn’t have been asked to do if we labeled ourselves just a “design studio” – it has pushed ourselves and our skills and has moved us into places we only hoped for.

It is our way of life and business, if I may sound cheesy in a blog comment.

Sarah

Great points here. Multidisciplinarity is less an eccentricity now than it is a survival skill. I’m working on breaking my habit of asking people what their job is, and instead asking, “What keeps you busy these days?”

larry

Over-specialization leads to extinction, and I fully support the multi-disciplinary theme here.

I would hope that the trend continues to lead creatively minded people towards exploring the depths and origins of making, specifically to make things better and the meaning deeper.

OMFGCO is a great example of this, and I was pleased to see them referenced.

riye

I like the term “maker”. To me it sounds less pretentious than “artist”, which is kind of a loaded word depending on who you’re talking to. I’m a sculptor but I “make stuff” so I truly am a maker. :-D

Leah

I also once found the term “maker” to be irritating for the same reasons as you, Grace. However, now that I have really invested myself in art/thing making pursuits, I am starting to appreciate the freedom and flexibility that “maker-ing” can afford me. Maybe someday I will be a more specific, “Fill-in-blank-Maker,” but I don’t think that I will ever be able to zone in on anything specialized unless I embrace the experimentation of being a thing-maker.

Simone Walsh

I tend to think of myself as a ‘maker’ – to me it seems like a nice, unpretentious sort of word which doesn’t really tie me to just one thing (even though I mostly make things out of metal). Plus I think it really focuses in on what it is that I actually spend much of my work time doing.

But when non-design/arts/crafts people ask me what I do for a living I tend to say ‘designer’ because I think that will make more sense to people who may not have heard the term ‘maker’ used in that context before.

Anne Fullenkamp

I am a designer at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and on October 23rd, we opened a new permanent exhibit called MAKESHOP for makers, about maker culture, everything this dicussion is about. It was funded by the McArthur Foundation. This is a new and exciting movement that is getting the interest of educators – finally. Of course, none of this is new; people are now getting why our parents and grandparents took art, shop, home-ec, whatever, and learned how to do something. Please check us out. We are looking for makers who want to contribute in many ways.

Nia Basset

For someone out in public to say they are “a maker” sounds pretentious to me, but somehow, Grace, you have managed to make it seem humble and unpretentious. I hope you understand what this means – through words you were actually able to change my mind (and others) about the meaning of a word that I felt pretty clear about. That is powerful. That is not only the sign of a great writer, but that is the stuff of a great leader.

I am excited to see this post. It shows me that your wheels are spinning. I can’t wait to see what comes of it.

Grace Bonney

Thanks Nia

The wheels are spinning pretty hard core over here these days. I love when I can feel a change coming on- both within myself and the industry as a whole.

Grace

Victoria

I’m a student in a textile program that hovers somewhere between Design, Art and Craft – and our instructors put a lot of onus on us to figure out where we fall between the three fields; and what title we will use to define ourselves on our future business cards. I too used to think very similarly to you – I hated the word maker! I was a designer! But then I began to realize that in designing patterns, I was also an artist, and in creating objects, I was also a craftsperson. I didn’t want to define myself under these terms – artist, designer, craftsperson – I am a maker. I can’t help it – it’s instinctive – I am a maker of things.

Thanks for this wonderful post; It’s nice to see this topic discussed openly to such a wide audience!

Elizabeth

I love the basic nature and straightforwardness of maker. In bypasses the art/craft/design debates and is gender neutral. It’s also more action-oriented and less self-congratulatory sounding than creatives.

Liz

Thanks so much for this post, Grace. I’ve been dipping my hands into all sorts of things lately & it feels scary, but I can’t help it. I indeed put myself into a “maker” category, and this little post makes me feel a whole lot better about what I’m doing:)

Emily

This post is especially inspiring. As a Graphic Designer just out of school, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of the possible missed opportunities when it comes to different disciplines. But, as someone who is passionate about all aspects of design and all creative mediums, this post has made me realize that I don’t have to limit myself just because I had 4 years of schooling in one area. As long as I stay passionate, motivated and inspired, I can do (try) it all. I don’t know why I ever felt I couldn’t. Thank you for your wonderfully inspiring blog, and congratulations on your recent success with your book!

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