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Maker Movement: From Conception to Creation

News & Features | April 7, 2014

Invention begins with an idea. Somebody is inspired to create something unique that is exactly what the world needs, whether that’s in the form of a virtual bear simulator, Amanda Palmer’s Theatre is Evil, or wireless smart headphones. Inspiration has struck, and now, because of the Maker Movement, the creator is able to bring their idea to reality.

The backbone of the Maker Movement is the idea that “if you can imagine it, you can make it.” Preceded by the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s, which rejected the increased use of machinery by emphasizing the value of the handmade good over that of its manufactured counterpart, the Maker Movement is a manifestation of the do-it-yourself mentality. In fact, Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of WIRED, has emphasized the importance of the Maker Movement by referring to it as “the new Industrial Revolution.” This “revolution” has manifested itself through a number of distinguished projects. For example, Neil Young envisioned a better music player that “preserves the [artist’s] feeling, spirit, and emotion” and developed the PonoPlayer. Meanwhile, a group of engineers in Cambridge developed “an affordable, high-resolution 3D printer” and built FORM 1. Nowadays, the Internet has allowed the creator to become completely self-reliant, and makers have seized its empowering potential. They are now able to create products while still retaining full control over the entire process, from conception to creation.

Makers have found their home in a number of “makerspaces.” Artisan’s Asylum is one such space only a few minutes away in Somerville, having established itself in an old envelope factory. This DIY haven provides people with necessary machinery and tools, whether that’s saws and drills for woodworking or soldering stations for tinkering with electronics. It also offers various classes through which makers can refine their skills, from building bikes to screen-printing. Makerspaces open up the physical resources that allow makers to create just about anything on their own.

But seeing as maker culture values conception just as much as it values creation, “idea festivals” have become primary platforms for makers to convene and discuss what’s next. Perhaps the most notable of these events is the Maker Faire in the Bay Area, where nearly 200,000 people from all over the globe met in 2013. Makers presented projects like the EMW, a BMW car converted to run on electricity, and KickSat, a project through which anybody can design a satellite and send it into space. According to its website, the Maker Faire “makes visible these projects and ideas that we don’t encounter every day,” and such examples show exactly that. Idea festivals stress the importance of showcasing unique products from both domestic and international creators. They have become highly organized, global phenomena, with Maker Faire events in Tokyo, Santiago, and Oslo, among other similar gatherings like FutureEverything in Manchester.

Makers have established rules for themselves: the magazine Make has published a “Maker’s Bill of Rights” with certain guidelines that people must follow when making. Meanwhile, Mark Hatch, the CEO of TechShop, a chain of makerspaces, has written The Maker Movement Manifesto. In an interview, he stated, “This really is a revolution—at least for a significant subset of Americans and potentially globally—and any revolution needs a manifesto of some kind.” A global community of makers has come to life, creating a groundbreaking subculture intent on encouraging both future innovation and active global change.

However, the creative projects that makers take on usually require significant funding.  Many makers have turned to crowdfunding as a viable means of raising money. Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow creators to publicize their product so that the community can contribute and back their projects. Kickstarter’s website states that since their launch in 2009, $1 billion has been pledged for about 58,000 projects. Freshman Jackson Clawson used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production and release of the first album for his band, The St. Valentinez. Over the span of a month, the band released videos, sent out personal emails, and publicized via social media. They were eventually able to surpass their goal, having made $18,660.

But over half (56 percent) of all Kickstarter projects do not end as successfully as Clawson’s did. Kickstarter’s policy states that if a project does not meet its goal, the creator does not receive any money from the backers. There is then intense pressure to meet the established goal in time, though this has a valuable positive effect. Clawson commented that the policy creates “an interesting team mentality. People are more willing to donate because they know that if you don’t reach your goal, you won’t get the money.” There is then a paradigm between the independent creator and the group mindset of websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Suddenly, a project that was the idea of a single creator becomes a collaborative effort, with a community of hundreds, even thousands, of backers offering important feedback along with their funding.

In order to encourage donations, crowdfunding campaigns often advertise both the product and the creator. If you look through various Kickstarter projects, you can see that most successful projects have an interesting story and an established image. For example, the Pebble SmartWatch, a fully customizable watch, raised an astounding $10.3 million with a goal of $100,000. Why was this watch so successful? Not only was the idea immensely popular amongst the tech community, but the watch was also advertised well—as a sleek, attractive product “built for the 21st century” by a “dream team.” Through such branding, the Pebble convinced its backers that it was a worthwhile investment.

Success, then, is often contingent on the image that the creator establishes for his or her self. Crowdfunding does not rely so much on the uniqueness of the idea, as it does on how well the creator is able to promote their product and bring it to the eye of the general public. The independence that the maker has established must coexist with his or her social capacities and promotional abilities. The Maker Movement gives makers the tools and skills they need to actualize their idea, but they must still sell it. After an idea has been conceived and prototyped, successful crowdfunding comes in as the next (necessary) step in the making process.

In many ways, the Movement represents the empowerment of the individual. Makers are able to create products that cater to their specific needs or address a problem that they find relevant. When makers want something outside of the norm, they do not wait for it to be created—they create it themselves. The consumer becomes the producer, bringing about a customizable and personable market.

So, what does the future look like for this movement? Idea festivals continue to spread, and crowdfunded products like Cards Against Humanity and the 3Doodler are rising in acclaim. The movement appears to be building up steam. At the same time, however, the integrity of the movement has become threatened as corporations look to buy out popular creations. Facebook recently bought out Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headset originally funded on Kickstarter, for a staggering $2 billion. While the creators may celebrate the sale, not everyone is pleased. Backers are upset because they invested in what they believed would be a video game headset, not what Mark Zuckerberg considers “the most social platform ever.” The entire project has moved from the hands of the independent creator to those of one of the largest companies in the world. This is a heavy blow to the entire Maker Movement. Despite the stress that the makers have put on creative independence and self-reliance, transactions like these seem to indicate that in the end, cash is king.

But such buyouts should not trivialize the impact of the Maker Movement. It is important to note that without the Movement or crowdfunding, revolutionary projects such as the Oculus Rift may have never existed in the first place. The Maker Movement has fostered a creative, independent community of innovators, a network of freethinkers throughout the world who are creating change on their own terms.