Makerspaces have become a popular place for innovators to work, socialize, and share knowledge. Over the past year, I have had the privilege to observe and study the development of two new makerspaces -- The Center for Lost Arts and Northwestern's Garage. The goal of this project is to identify how and why innovators share knowledge in these spaces in order to to design a tool that encourages and facilitates these transactions.
In order to develop tools to support knowledge sharing in makerspaces, I decided to immerse myself in these communities to understand current behaviors and identify opportunities for improvement.
In a recent 6-week ethnographic study of a Chicago-based design makerspace, Center for Lost Arts, I observed the growth of a community of 70 designers 3 hours a day to understand how the space layout, tool availability, social programming, and online technology usage interacted to facilitate knowledge sharing between innovators. I found that while the nature of work in these spaces was often solitary, people chose to work in these spaces to meet new people and acquire new skillsets. However, I identified a series of tensions around creating an space that wants to promote both productivity and social interactions. For example, while putting all the tools in the same room promoted cross-pollination of ideas, people who needed to concentrate on project planning were often distracted.
I then performed 20 follow up interviews with the most active members of the Lost Arts community. I am currently transcribing and analyzing this data. One initial insight was understanding how social technologies were used to keep track of and facilitate social activity in the space.
"I think [Slack] definitely creates a bridge for us, that communication gap between everybody, you know. You're able to communicate a lot faster, get in touch with people, and kind of know people...Talking to people in person and through online, I feel like, it's two different personas that you kind of learn from that person. So, it's unique getting to know that person from social media and then in person."
Participatory Design Workshops
I am currently running a series of participatory design workshops at Northwestern's Garage to co-develop ideas around helping innovators connect and seek knowledge from peers and experts. Through these sessions, we find that innovators, particularly novices, choose not reach out for advicebecause they are worried their "ask" is not important, or that the help-provider is either too busy or does not have the right expertise. These insights inspire tool ideas around fostering confidence and activity awareness in makerspaces.
This project is currently in progress. Some initial ideas include creating a tool that could foster awareness of people's expertise in the makerspace or help people seek feedback on their "asks" before consulting an expert.
Hui, J., Gerber, E., (2017). "Developing Makerspaces as Sites of Entrepreneurship." ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing.
I supervise two undergraduate student researchers on this project. Shannon Nachreiner, a senior computer science major, helps to develop and test paper and interactive prototypes. Wendy Roldan, a junior in Mechanical Engineering, performs user studies by helping me facilitate participatory design workshops.