MAKE BETTER STUFF (MBS) explores the intersection of creativity, technology, and sustainability.

Run by designer-educator Xanthe Matychak, MBS began as a TEDx Talk in 2010, evolved into a blog and workshop series in 2012. 2015 has been an exciting year:  We were invited to The White House, We began developing a physical product using MBS design principles, and we’ll be teaching Make Better Stuff courses in The Dept of Environmental Science at Ithaca College. 
Make Better Stuff design principles: 
  • Manufacture in Low Batches – make only what you need
  • Distribute Locally – make stuff near where it will be used
  • Make with Responsible Materials – make stuff with renewable or reclaimed materials
  • Inspire Positive Behavior – make stuff that helps users be better citizens of the world
  • Make it Easy to Upgrade and Repair – make stuff that gets better with age!
  • Make it Accessible – make stuff that was previously hard to engage with
  • Celebrate Nature – make stuff that celebrates local ecosystems
  • Celebrate Culturemake stuff that strengthens human relationships
  • Make it Modular – make stuff that illustrates how systems are made from modular pieces

Have a look around this site and get in touch. Let’s make something amazing together.

CONTACT: xanthe.matychak@gmail.com

Making Light – Made in USA is alive in The White House and in Ithaca

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Earlier this month we traveled to The White House Office of Science and Technology to take part in a special kick-off event to National Maker Faire. We were thrilled by a panel focused on connecting makers with US Manufacturers. The panel was facilitated by JJ Raynor, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and filled with ‘Made in USA’ trailblazers: Mo Mullen from West Elm Local, Bernie Lynch from Made Right Here, Matthew Burnett from Maker’s Row, and Althea Erickson from Etsy. All of these folks recognize the talent and creativity of our makers and inventors and are hard at work building bridges between makers and US suppliers and manufacturers. The discussion was inspiring!

As you may know, this summer Make Better Stuff is developing a product in the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator in Ithaca, NY. We’re working on a light that aims to tune our bodies and minds to a slower, more natural sense of time. Above is an early prototype of a kit version. We are developing both a kit version for makers and hanging lamp version for public spaces. As far as the electronics go,  we’ve milled and populated some custom boards on the Othermill we have in the shop. We’ve tested them (they work!) and are ordering a few variations from OSH Park.

While we wait for the boards, we’re getting feedback from potential customers and we’re exploring a range of laser cut designs for the kit version of the light–which sits on a table–and the hanging version. We’re at the point where we need to start putting together a BOM (bill of materials) and that’s where organizations like Maker’s Row, West Elm, and Made Right Here can help us find US suppliers and manufacturers. It’s super exciting. Like a geeky dream come true!

If you’d like to read more about the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator, then check out their blog right here: http://www.ststartup.com/blog/

More links:

http://revithaca.com/

http://www.westelm.com/shop/collaborations/all-local/

https://www.maderighthere.me/

http://makersrow.com/

https://www.etsy.com/seller-handbook/?ref=ftr

https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/06/23/seven-days-making

https://othermachine.co/othermill/features/

https://oshpark.com/

From Maker to Manufacture – we speak for the trees!

oak maybe

This summer Jenn C and I are taking a prototype that we made at Ithaca Generator makerspace and developing it for local manufacture and distribution at Rev Ithaca Startup Works in their Hardware Accelerator Program. What’s a Hardware Accelerator Program you ask? It’s like an arts fellowship for product developers. The program offers space, support, materials, and knowledge so that folks can take their prototype to the next level.

The prototype we have is a smart lamp that celebrates leaves. Why leaves? Because civilized people can identify more corporate logos than leaves and that ain’t right.

At present, our prototype is low resolution: the electronics work but they are enclosed in a yogurt container. (It’s empty and clean but still!)

We’ll share evolutions of the product as we go through them. In the mean time, if there’s a leaf that is your favorite, post a pic in the comments. We are collecting…

photo: scanned oak leaves collected from Taughannock Falls State Park in April 2015

3D Printing – what’s the big deal?

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this post first appeared at IthacaGenerator.org

It’s likely that you’ve heard of 3D Printing by now. But for some, the technology still seems mysterious. You may have questions like, “What exactly is 3D Printing” or “Why does 3D Printing matter?” Below are some answers.

HOW THE TECHNOLOGY WORKS. 3D Printing is kind of like a hot glue gun that has the brains of a MRI. Each printer has a heated nozzle in that is fed filament. The heated nozzle extrudes hot plastic  that quickly cools into a solid form. But a 3D Printer isn’t guided by a person’s hand like a glue gun is. A 3D Printer is guided by the X, Y, and Z coordinates of a digital 3D image. It uses these coordinates to move the nozzle and print bed so it can recreate accurate, tangible 3D objects.

A TECHNOLOGY DEMOCRATIZED. 3D Printing has been around for years. But recently the technology has experienced a “democratization.” What does that mean? It means that the technology has changed in two ways:

  1. It’s become really inexpensive
  2. It’s become pretty easy to use

When a technology becomes cheap and easy to use, more and more people get their hands on it and start using it. Thus, it becomes democratized.

WHAT DOES THE TECHNOLOGY AFFORD? For what 3D Printing lacks in speed, it makes up for in customization. If you have a broken part on a stroller, for example, you can 3D scan the broken part, repair the part in 3D software, and print a new part. So it keeps us from having to throw out an entire product just because one little piece is broken. Another custom application we are seeing is the printing of custom prosthetics for children. Before 3D Printing became cheap and easy to use, prosthetics weren’t attainable for children because they would be outgrown at a pace that made the cost not worth the investment.

WHY DOES 3D PRINTING MATTER? It matters because in a pre-3D Printing world, if you wanted to design, make, or distribute a product or part, you needed access to expensive software, machinery, expertise, and distribution channels. Those barriers are dissolving. Now all you need is access to the internet and a device to work on. You can literally design a product on your phone and upload it to a 3D Printer anywhere in the world for manufacture. This opens up the field of product invention to everyday people. And as we’ve seen with previous democratizations of technology like video, everyday people make a lot of cheezy stuff (cat videos), but they make important stuff too (citizen journalism).

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT 3D PRINTING? We have two 3D Printers at IG. But better than machines, we have a wealth of expertise. At present, IG Board Member Chris Westling is teaching a class on 3D Printing. He also takes the 3D Printers out on the road: Chris was recently a hit at STEM night in Caroline Elementary Schooland I bet you’ll be seeing him at Ed Tech Day at Ithaca College. Additionally, on Tuesday nights he hosts an open house at the makerspace. Come on down and check it out.

If you’re more of a “learn on your own” type, we recommend you have a look at thingiverse – an open source library of 3D objects. Then hop over to tinkercad and do some of the tutorials to learn the basics of 3D software. Then come on down to IG to print your file or upload it to a service bureau like shapeways.

Do you have an invention you’d love to design and create? If so, share it in the comments!

image from: https://www.etsy.com/shop/wearableplanter?ref=l2-shopheader-name

‘Great Artists Steal’ and other insights from Chris Rock

Artists who have been at it for a while have great insights on the creative process. This NYTs interview with Chris Rock is from November 2014, there’s some great stuff in here if you listen carefully.

1. Great Artists Steal. This is something I have a hard time convincing my students of. They think if they steal that they are not being original. Not true. Great artists steal. All of the time. There are no new ideas so get over it. Steal. And you might as well give credit bc the phrase “Great artists steal and hide their sources well” is dead in the age of internet. Inspiration is everywhere. Let’s celebrate it.

2. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Amateurs fall in love with their first drafts. Artists don’t. They push it out like the ugly thing that it is, then they get on with the work of iterating through many more drafts. If you’re a writer, that’s rewriting nd editing. If you’re a painter, that’s sketching. If you make movies, that’s shooting and cutting tons of great content. If you’re an entrepreneur, that’s getting feedback and pivoting. Rarely do you nail it right out of the gate. So do your first draft, then move on.

3. If you hired an actor who doesn’t own their character by the end of the process, then something is wrong. To extend this to other art forms, if the members of your project team don’t eventually own the project, then something is wrong. Either they are the wrong team members, or you didn’t let go of control when they were ready to take it. As a leader, you have to start out by modeling investment in the project, the character, what have you. But then you have to watch out for that moment when your team is ready to take the reigns. Give it to them along with your faith and your support.

There’s a fourth point in here that’s not directly related to creativity, but kind of is bc it illustrates the importance of perspective. Chris Rock loves Kanye West. There’s a lot of criticism of Kanye in the news lately and all I have to say is watch that. He’s an important artist to a lot of people. He may not be for you, and that’s ok.

OK. If you have other insights on creativity, then please share in the comments.

Write-storming

If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.

If you do a lot of team work, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting only half of the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. So a great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.

I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from safe&easy ideas to wild&challenging ones.

For more on the technique, check out this piece in FastCo called “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work.” And if you like that, you’ll want to check out the book Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson.

Finally, if you have effective strategies for harnessing collective intelligence, or any insights into this problem, then please share them in the comments.