Jean Lievens: The Do It Yourself Maker Movement

Hardware, Manufacturing, Materials, Resilience, Software, Transparency
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

“In this chapter, we investigate the maker subculture and its manifestation in fabbing ecosystem. In other words, how the love of making things, hacking, tinkering, circuit bending and doing/making everything so-called DIY is a significant peculiarity of Fab Labs. We first look at the meaning and the emergence of the maker subculture and the development of hackerspaces and shared machines shops. Secondly, we explore how the maker community is shaped and organized. In a third point, this chapter details a Fab approach of architecture, art and fashion. Finally, we see how hobbyists moved from do-it-yourself (DIY) to do-it-together (DIT) activities with examples of making music instruments and biotech.”

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Maker Movement



” the Maker Movement, a push to re-imagine the objects we own rather than throw them away.

Although the movement started with just a few techno geeks, artists and hobbyists, it has attracted thousands over the decades. A record 65,000 people waited in traffic for two hours to get to the Maker Faire in the San Francisco area this spring. Make Magazine now has a circulation of 110,000.

Maker’s Law

On a basic level, the movement is about reusing and repairing objects, rather than discarding them to buy more. On a deeper level, it’s also a philosophical idea about what ownership really is.

“If you’re not able to open and replace the batteries in your iPod or replace the fuel-sender switch on your Chevy truck, you don’t really own it,” (



“Open Source Hardware has a loud and passionate following in the hobbyist community. In 2005, O’Reilly Media began publishing Make magazine, a quarterly how-to guide for all sorts of engineering and science projects. Make now has more than 100,000 subscribers and has spawned events known as Maker Faires, which are a cross between souped-up science fairs and high-tech craft shows. Last spring, 65,000 professionals and amateurs flocked to the San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire to demonstrate projects that ranged from arts and crafts to engineering and science–and many that blurred the boundaries. And as they showed off their creations, attendees also shared ideas and met potential collaborators.

Around the time that Make was getting off the ground, Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04, launched the Instructables website, which provides a template for step-by-step instructions that lets people document their engineering projects online. Since its users are allowed to comment on other people’s projects, Instructables has created a vibrant community of technology enthusiasts who share information on building just about anything–including a computer mouse made from an actual dead mouse, an eight-foot-long match, and biodiesel fuel.” (

The History of the Maker Subculture

By Aurelie Ghalim, in the study, Fabbing Practices:

“In this chapter, we investigate the maker subculture and its manifestation in fabbing ecosystem. In other words, how the love of making things, hacking, tinkering, circuit bending and doing/making everything so-called DIY is a significant peculiarity of Fab Labs. We first look at the meaning and the emergence of the maker subculture and the development of hackerspaces and shared machines shops. Secondly, we explore how the maker community is shaped and organized. In a third point, this chapter details a Fab approach of architecture, art and fashion. Finally, we see how hobbyists moved from do-it-yourself (DIY) to do-it-together (DIT) activities with examples of making music instruments and biotech.

The maker subculture is a contemporary subculture, representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker subculture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. – Wikipedia

In 1968, the first issue of the American magazine The Whole Earth Catalogue was released. Subtitled “Access to Tools”, this catalogue listed a vast range of products for sale with references to the vendors and their prices. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, The Whole Earth Catalogue was the bible for the DIY movement in providing amateurs information on equipment and supplies, allowing them to make their own things. This directory was available for “everyone frustrated with industrialized mass production” . According to Pfeiffer, The Whole Earth Catalogue offered something very precious to the non-professional practitioners: the access to tools and information . In the second half of the 20th century, there was a boom in DIY activities with many magazines, television and radio shows dedicated to this topic. From a necessity to a leisure practice, DIY activity has radically changed to become more and more sophisticated overtime. Nonetheless, it became also easier with self-assembly processes and kits. Since the 1960s, manufacturers have developed and promoted easy methods that led to the simplification and commodification of DIY practices .

Since the fifties, there was a constant trend in the DIY movement to evolve with the new technologies . The introduction of computation science and later the Internet technologies has enabled users to become designers with the help of easy-use and predesigned templates. On the one hand, DIY and amateurism practices may be an aesthetic choice – unpolished look and design – promoting a romantic style and being also a political act against the machines. On the other hand, everyone can reach the perfection now with user-friendly technologies that give an almost-professional result. “Today’s DIY emphasizes customization over craft” . The cult of the amateur – the shift from being consumers to being producers – that first hit the online world is slowly moving to the offline or, in better words, the physical world. A new kind of amateurs – the makers – seeks to specialize in engineering-oriented technologies and mastering industrial machines such as [Computer Numerical Control] CNC tools and 3D printing. The rise of this making subculture is rooted in the phenomenon of hackerspaces emerging themselves from the counterculture movement.

Hackerspaces, also called makerspaces, hacklabs, creative spaces are facilities where like-minded individuals (hackers) can learn and share technologies outside the traditional education centres.

Hackerspaces members define these locations as “community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects” . They are open labs based on peer learning where people can learn around computers, technology and electronics with an emphasis on non-market (or anti-market) orientation. Collaboration between such places is called “hackatons”. Along with hackerspaces, 100kGarages and TechShops are another type of shared-technologies places. Such as Fab Labs, 100kGarages “is a community of workshops with digital fabrication tools for precisely cutting, machining, drilling, or sculpting the parts for your project or product, in all kinds of materials, in a shop or garage near you” . ShopBot Tools Inc launched these Garages in 2008 in collaboration with Ponoko. These distributed manufacturers produce user’s design for a fee and no shop access. TechShop is a chain of workshops that started in the California Bay Area in 2006. There are currently five TechShops in the USA. Strictly commercial, this shared machine shop is based on a membership system that gives users the right to use the tools and equipment to build their own things. In the vein of Fab Labs, 100KGarages and TechShop have the same inexpensive machines (laser cutter, 3D mills) using open source software.

The concept of shared machine shops was defined in Karl Hess’ Community Technology published in 1979:

– The machine shop should have enough basic tools, both hand and power, to make the building of demonstrations models or test facilities a practical and everyday activity…For inner-city residents the shared machine shop might be a sensible and practical doorway to the neglected world of productivity as well as being a base for community experimentation and demonstration.

Peter Troxler puts on a graph the fabbing ecosystem. 100kGarages and TechShops are solely infrastructure while Fab Labs and Hackerspaces are much more places to undertake projects with a strong commitment to commons-based principles. Unlike 100kGarages, Fab Labs, TechShop and Hackerspaces let individuals to access their machines (generative). ProtoSpace is a Fab Lab based in Utrecht, founded in collaboration with the Dutch Inventors association Novu, and sponsored by many non-profit or governmental organizations. Diane Pfeiffer salutes its innovation model: “From an American perspective, it is interesting to see that this facility is sponsored through a joint initiative of eleven organisations, many of them non-profit or governmental, but favor access for new commercial entities and unaffiliated individuals” and contrasts this with the US scenario: “While there are approximately twelve Fab Labs in the US, most are not this well funded. Instead, in the US numerous small, local maker clubs are emerging alongside occasional for-profit (and not Fab Lab) enterprises such as TechShop in Palo Alto, CA and Portland, OR” .

A community of makers has been evolving around open source hardware projects and companies namely Arduino, MakerBot Industries, ReRap Project, [email protected] and many others. These artisans 2.0 attend Maker Faires; subscribe to Make (the 21st issue covers desktop manufacturing ) and Craft magazines and share their design online. The annual Bay Area Maker Faire is a celebration of do-it-yourself culture where Pro-Ams gather in big number to see all kind of DIY stuff from robot pets, homebrewed 3D models, crafts, biotech, electronic gizmos. They are hackers, crafters, artisans and tinkerers.

Leadbeater and Miller put forward the love of making things as the first condition to be considered as a Pro-Am:

– A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. Pro-Ams are unlikely to earn more than a small portion of their income from their pastime but they pursue it with the dedication and commitment associated with a professional. For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory; it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations .

In 2008, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) published the study The Future of Making: the Way Things are Made Is Being Made on the emerging DIY culture of makers (Pro-Ams). IFTF identified six drivers of change that foster this movement (social networking, eco-motivation, the rise of the professional amateurs, access to tools, open-source everything and quest of authenticity) and six trends that will change how we design and produce things (desktop manufacturing, lightweight manufacturing, citizen R&D, networked artisans, grassroots economics and open innovation) .”


Chris Anderson, interviewed by Vikram Alexei Kansara:

“BoF: What is the Maker movement? What are the forces driving this movement? And why is this the new industrial revolution?

Basically, the Maker movement is what happens when the Web meets the real world. It’s the combination of the Web’s innovation model with a new generation of computer-controlled desktop manufacturing tools that have a democratising impact, much like the PC and the Internet did a generation ago.

I would argue that there have been two major industrial revolutions, with the third one emerging now. The first industrial evolution was about mechanisation; replacing muscle power with machine power and amplifying human productivity by letting machines do the work. The second industrial revolution was arguably the computer revolution. But it wasn’t the invention of computers. It was their democratisation; putting them in the hands of everybody with the PC and the Internet that unleashed a huge amount of talent, energy and creativity which was transformative. The third industrial revolution is just a combination of the first two: it’s the Web revolution meets manufacturing.

The reason that this is even more transformative than the Web is simply that the world of physical stuff is bigger than the world of digital stuff. The manufacturing economy is much bigger than the information economy. And if those same social forces that transformed the world through the Web can be applied to physical goods, you would see tremendous social impact.

BoF: Where do you see the Maker movement in 5 years?

We know that the tools are only going to get better and cheaper to use. I really do think 3D printers will be commonly found in American homes in five years. And the moment you bring a 3D printer into a home, especially a home with children, the light bulb goes off. You are suddenly training a generation to believe that anything they can imagine, they can make. And the fact that the cloud [manufacturing services] side of things is developing equally quickly — they realise that they can make almost any volume and quality they want.

That’s liberating and exciting and it’s going to be fascinating to see what kind of industries emerge. It seems almost unlimited what kind of products can come out of the Maker market. I think what’s going to happen is we get the first billion dollar Maker company. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but the same way you needed a Gates and you needed a Jobs and you needed a Zuckerberg, somebody like that is going to emerge from this movement.” (


On the need for Maker Incubator Communities

Eric Hunting:

“Though I certainly can’t blame people for pursuing things for fun, I’ve sometimes been a little frustrated by the triviality of a lot of the things you see in the sites like the Make and Instructibles blogs when there’s this tremendous need for functional and quality/performance-competitive alternatives to corporate consumer products -particularly in the developing world as a means to improve standard of living and challenge colonial economic hegemonies. Coming to learn about things like the ill-fated Africar project, the Hutterite communities (one of the three branches of the Anabaptists, but with a very different attitude towards technology compared to the Amish), and the tinker communities of the Pashtun region with their remarkable ability to replicate by hand modern factory-produced weaponry I came to realize that barriers to standard of living improvement are often as much the result of Industrial Age patterns of design favoring high-capital-cost tools/processes as it is basic economic situations. I started asking myself questions like, if tinkers can make a functional clone of an AK-47 by hand, why, when they’re so cash-poor, are they buying portable generators and refrigerators from China and second-hand Toyota pick-ups from Japan? The answer may be designs that are deliberately intended to be dependent on tools like three storey multi-million-dollar steel presses when there are alternative ways to design things that still work as well even if they don’t fit mass production logic. Designs that associate a technology exclusively with a high-capital production method because it secures market control or simply because no other alternatives have ever been explored. This is what Tony Howarth (unfortunately incompetently, perhaps because there was no Open Source model in those days) was trying to address with the Africar. He observed first-hand how western vehicle designs just turned into junk when taken out of their western environmental and economic context and realized that a practical vehicle for the rest of the world needed to be designed to be compatible with very different local physical and economic infrastructures. I’ve sometimes suggested that the reason auto companies were so reluctant to introduce hybrid cars, and then grudgingly introduced them in the most ridiculously and unnecessarily over-complicated forms, may be that they fear this is a technology so flexible that they can’t control it. Once the mechanical power train is gone, you can make a car with anything and your choices of power plants and fuels radically expands. You can just-about build a hybrid car now from almost-commodity components like a computer and that’s a scary prospect to corporate dinosaurs used to relying on very exclusive components production/distribution to suppress bottom-up competition. This, I suspect, is also why Volkswagen deliberately killed the Bug. It was too successful, too ubiquitous, and when it got to the point where the only component left that wasn’t being made by unauthorized producers somewhere in the world was the bare chassis, they pulled the plug. The Bug was very close to doing to VW what the PC did to IBM -and it’s too bad they caught on too soon because the whole world might be different if they hadn’t.

So it occurred to me that it would be very interesting to try and create a situation where people had a practical need to replicate as much of the western standard of living ‘package’ as possible using designs suited to the smallest scales of tools and simplest methods of fabrication possible. I’m not talking about pursuing some ideal of total self-sufficiency by adopting a neo-primitive lifestyle of altruistic self-sacrifice. The idea of absolute autonomous self-sufficiency is fantasy and asceticism is vanity. Even the first colonists in Alpha Centauri will be downloading their favorite TV soap operas and computer games. Nor am I talking about a ‘junk world’ community based entirely on adaptive reuse, though some adaptive reuse would certainly be practical. There should never need to be a sacrifice in comfort, performance, or beauty just to make things in a different way. I just want to see how much of the Good Life you can pull off without a distant factory given current technology and what the personal freedom/quality of life dividend of that would be. How far can we reduce the exchange between a community and the rest of the world to an input of just commodity components and foodstuffs or raw materials? What spectrum of in-community skills are needed to optimize industrial self-sufficiency? How much cultural and economic impact might the global export of designs from this community have?” (email contribution August 2008)

Reasons for its emergence

Bertram Niessen:

“The last years are witnessing the rise of a new phenomenon generally defined as Makers movement. Its pillar is the network grown around Make Magazine and Maker Faire. Make Magazine is a publication born in 2006 that connects a wide range of DIY projects related with technology. Makers Faire is a meeting held around the USA aiming at the connection of backyard inventors, artists and high-tech crafters. Behind this boom is O’Reilley Media, the publisher worldwide known for its software manuals and for the support to many initiatives related to technological innovation, social entrepreneurship and high-tech startups.

The Maker Faire is only the top of an iceberg of worldwide upturn in new forms of Do It Yourself, that includes communities and laboratories interested in hardware hacking (like Dorkbot), desktop manufacturing (MIT’s Centre for Bits and Bytes, the FabLab movement), DIYbio, and many others “backyard” approaches to material production. Similar phenomena have always existed in the world of geeks, but there is something radically new in what it’s happening now.

We can identify at least four main causes of this rapid social transformation. Firstly, there is an increasing number of people with high-level education in sciences and technologies. Secondly, this people is now connected through incredibly powerful means thanks to the rise of web 2.0 (and platforms, like Instructables, that allow to create and share extremely complex sets of informations in an easy way). Thirdly, desktop manufacturing technologies (like the open source 3D printing projects RepRap and the MakerBot) and services (like the on-demand lasercutting portal Ponoko) are becoming extremely accessible and cheap. Finally, there is an increasing interest in open hardware projects (think at Arduino: it’s cheap, extremely flexible, customizable and even kids can learn to use it). According to many observers, this situation is going to reshape the way we think at the relationships among material production, technology, innovation and society.” (

Issues between Maker Companies and Investors

By Alexandra Dean:

“Adafruit is one of hundreds of growing ventures in the U.S. that belong to the so-called maker movement. These companies sell kits and support online communities of DIY types who make everything from toys to robots to 3D printers, and their moment seems to have arrived: Maker Faire, the movement’s Woodstock, attracted perhaps 20,000 hard-core devotees five years ago. At last year’s events in Detroit and New York, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to presentations sponsored by the likes of PepsiCo (PEP), Ford (F), and Microsoft (MSFT). And electronics giants Microchip Technology (MCHP) and Texas Instruments (TXN), hoping to profit from the maker zeitgeist, last year began offering their own kits. The maker movement is “as significant as the shift from agriculture to the early industrial era,” says Jeremy Rifkin, a Wharton economist.

As maker companies go mainstream, though, they are finding that investors may not share their ideals. They were hatched by tinkerers who break open electronics and repurpose them, for instance using the 3D motion sensors in Microsoft’s Kinect game technology to make their inventions obey physical commands. As a result, makers insist on openly sharing their discoveries and knowhow. To keep their ideals intact, dozens of leading makers have pledged to issue open-source patents that would ensure their products could never be made secret.

Today, with some expanding quickly and considering selling equity to venture capital firms, they have to reconcile their maker values with economic reality. Jeff Bocan, a managing director at Beringea, a Detroit venture capital firm that backs manufacturers, says the idea of sharing would make him reluctant to invest in a maker company. “It’s really hard to build a business where you have no competitive advantage,” says Bocan.

Despite their passion for collaboration—or perhaps because of it—maker companies are thriving. Parts wholesaler Sparkfun Electronics, in Boulder, Colo., says its annual sales are well over $20 million. Chris Anderson, founder of 3D Robotics in San Diego, which sells kits to make tiny aircraft mounted with cameras, says his 16-employee company is approaching sales of $3 million annually. MakerBot Industries in Brooklyn employs 82 people and in the past three years has sold about $10 million worth of kits for building 3D printing machines, which makers use to forge their creations.

For all these companies, making intellectual property public has helped drive growth, says MakerBot co-founder Bre Pettis. “Our users, our customers … are our collaborators,” he says. The community acts almost like a free research and development arm, Pettis argues, and that is more valuable than owning the intellectual property rights to his products. “Because they have all the data, all the information, all the source code for MakerBot, they can make changes, make improvements,” he says, “and everybody benefits.”

Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group, a venture capital firm in Boulder that backed game maker Zynga (ZNGA), invested $10 million in MakerBot. Feld is a strong believer in open-source hardware who studied under Eric von Hippel, a leading maker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “MakerBot has the potential to be the Apple (AAPL) or HP (HPQ) of the 3D printing market,” Feld wrote on his blog at the time. Says Pettis: “Our investors get it; they know the community focus is what’s going to win.”

Adafruit founder Limor Fried notes that many maker companies—Adafruit included—have dealt with the issue by avoiding equity investments. “We are not on any deadline to sell the company,” says Fried. “Our only responsibility is to the open-source hardware community and our customers.” (