Experience the joy of Making with Dale Dougherty


Dale Dougherty: I’m Dale Dougherty and I am the founder of MAKE magazine and creative Maker Faire. I live in Sebastopol, California and I am happy to be here and talk to you.

Steve: Fantastic. Thank you for joining us. How long has MAKE magazine and Maker Faire been around?

Dale: Sure. MAKE magazine is in about its eighth year and Maker Faire is in its seventh year. The magazine first came out in 2005 and Maker Faire started in 2006.

Steve: Very cool. So how has the Internet changed the maker culture and the way the magazine operates and just sort of the trends that occurred with building and creating physical objects?

Dale: Well, I think one of the big ideas, in a sense, has made tinkering and even engineering social. We have this model sometimes in our head of a lone tinkerer in the workshop by himself. What we see today are people in groups doing things. They might be doing their own thing, but they’re often collaborating with people physically, remotely, or virtually. So, I think that’s one thing.

In many ways makers represents a set of skills and expertise that are best passed on person to person. It’s like looking over someone’s shoulder and watching them do welding. It’s better than watching a video, being able to interrupt and ask a question. I still think it matters to be together physically and see things. Even the discovery of whose doing welding or who knows how to do this is something that’s facilitated online.

In many cases, even while watching videos of welding makes you familiar with it. It may not make you a good welder, but it makes you understand if you could weld or whether you’d like to do this kind of welding or a different kind of welding. Which leads to what I think this is about, when I launched it I was grounded in this DIY do-it-yourself. Do-it-yourself refers to the motivation and you make the decisions to do something. Whether it’s a hobby or a project, once you make that decision you start meeting other people who are interested in that area.

So, it becomes social quite early. But if you don’t take that first step, it doesn’t happen. You think about, maybe in the past, if you were a young kid and you grew up in an area and let’s say your father or sometimes your mother was a tinkerer, you might have picked it up from them. But if they weren’t, you didn’t have that much exposure to that. I don’t think this is a genetic thing. I think this is something that we all can do and we are all connected to, but we need to be exposed to it.

Just like the Internet you can find those one or two people somewhere that have that same interest that you do and are perhaps at a similar level of interest, but they don’t have to live in your neighborhood now. They could be in Czechoslovakia or somewhere else.

Steve: You can connect up regardless. It’s interesting you said making and tinkering isn’t a genetic component, it’s actually something you have to be exposed to which is somewhat similar to the same conversation people have with entrepreneurship. Are entrepreneurs born? Are they made? It’s a very interesting similarity that you mentioned.

Dale: Well, in fact, I think that the MAKE community consists of accidental entrepreneurs. In other words, they didn’t start off with an intention of creating a business, they were interested in something. A lot of what I see in makers is they actually play with technology. It’s like an experimental play. What does this do, what can I make it do and what is it good for? They don’t know the answers to those questions and out of that play emerges things that they might understand, “Oh, nobody’s doing this with it and I can do that.” Then someone comes up to him and says, “That’s cool, how do I get one of those?” You might say, “You mean you want to buy this?” He says “Yeah, do you sell it?” And they say, “No, I never thought of doing that.” So they go home and start pulling their hair out figuring out how to set up a business to make these things and sell them to other people.

I think a lot of people do get into business that way, but it’s often, what I interested is their passion kind of creates the opportunity. Another way of looking at it is that, actually, their immersion in the technology or immersion in a community is what gives them the framing for creating a new opportunity. In other words, every community needs something and no one is providing it and I would really like to step forward and do that.

Steve: Something I really love, so I’d love to do this and, hey, I can make money doing it.

Dale: And we know that it’s valued within the community.

Steve: That’s really cool because I have known a lot of engineers who love creating and they love building and business is the farthest thing from their mind. They don’t even think about it, but they’re like, “Oh, wait, wait I could do that?” They’re not against it, but they just don’t think about it.

Dale: The other thing that I think is a trend that’s really fascinating, particularly in engineering, is that it’s possible to be, what I’d call like a freelance engineer today. You could be a freelance web designer, you can a freelance web developer, like work on jobs and you think of it, “Hey, I need my computer, I need a few software tools and I need the Internet and I’m set.” In the past engineers kind of looked at it like, “Well, I have to work at a place that has enough facilities and capital to underwrite development.”

I think with evidence of maker spaces and tech shops and stuff, you can, at a fairly low cost, make prototypes. Take that idea you have in your head, make it real and then start sharing it with other people and see if there is an interest and where you can go with that. One of the things I have been saying is, “Hardware isn’t as hard as it used to be.” It’s making it possible to do things.

Again, the contrast in software is you’re an 18-year-old kid and you have a great idea for an app or a website. Even if you don’t have a technical background, you can start figuring this out. It’s just a matter of time before you master the tools to be able to create something.

Whereas in the hardware world you kind of say, “Well, I don’t know if I can really get this manufactured,” or “I don’t know if it’s really viable.” While there are still some obstacles there, the obstacles are smaller. So someone with a 3D printer can create an object, a one-of-a-kind thing without saying, “I’ve got to figure out how to make it work for a 100,000 volume, I can actually create one of them.”

I see lots of examples of people creating little objects. They have an idea, a particular shape or a particular piece of a thing that’s going to make a difference and create something new. It would have been harder 10 or 15 years ago to do that.

Steve: It’s kind of cool you mention how engineering is becoming social. So, even if I don’t have a 3D printer like nowadays, I can design something for a 3D printer and it’s a lot easier to find someone who has a 3D printer who would be like “Oh, yes, sure I’ll print that out.” I think that opens up a lot of doors, but then also the idea that because tools are becoming available to more people, I can design a widget that doesn’t have to have mass benefit to thousands of people. I can design something that might fit a hundred people, but that’s completely viable and okay.

Dale: One of the underpinnings of maker culture, I think, is the whole open source movement. What open source software did more than anything, it was not about making software free, it was making it available for people to build on top of. It allowed people to say, “Here’s a small niche. There may be ten people in that niche, but, I’d like to create something for them.” That niche might grow over time, and who knows what happens. But if you had to build from the bottom up, that whole stack of software to serve that niche, it would be impractical.

I think a lot of what we are seeing is a kind of layering in terms of open source hardware, personal fabrication tools, technologies and techniques, and even materials. People say, “Oh! I can build something that would never make sense in a mass market, but it does make sense for a niche market.”

Steve: Do you think we’ll see more and more of, like I’ve been kind of playing around with the idea of people buying plans. So, instead of an object, you’d buy plans, maybe the case or the instructions. So you would buy that and then make it yourself. Do you think we will see that?

Dale: Well, we are seeing it. I would say I’ve seen more sharing than buying. But if you look in areas of the most ultimate DIY area is like building your own airplane. People like to do it and they buy plans online, go home, and work from those plans, and there’s community involved in those. I’m kind of fascinated. I’ve seen something purely in the make space where someone made a living just selling plans. But in the architecture spaces you see people selling a two bedroom home, that kind of thing.

It may immerge, like Thingiverse and other things that are models of just open sharing. But I could see something. In the past, magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanic, which were a bit like in a sense predecessors to MAKE, they had a lot of small ads in there for things like, “Make your own dugout canoe!” It wasn’t so much the materials as it is the plans for that, which sort of leads me to a discussion of kits.

Kits are plans plus the parts and we are seeing a great interest in kit development and in others doing that kind of stuff.

Steve: Didn’t you just start offering something like an EKG kit or something that could attach to the finger?

Dale: Yeah, a pulse sensor kit, I think.

Steve: Pulse sensor, okay.

Dale: It’s a headband with a heart.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

Dale: It’s time for a special issue of MAKE on kits and lots reviewing kits. I think it’s a great entrepreneurial element for people. We sell a lot of kits through our Maker Shed and like to support makers who have ideas for kits. Partly, kits help other people make something. And in the open source sense, a kit is because you built it, you kind of understand what it is, how it works and how to modify it. So you can take it apart.

There’s a company in Chandler, Arizona called Local Motors is a sort of build your own car. I visited them and I remember asking one of the guys who built his own car, I said, “Are you able to maintain it?” He said, “Of course, because I put it together. I know how things work, especially if I’m driving one of their cars out in the desert I’m not likely to find a gas station and pull in and ask for their help. I have to be able to do it myself.”

Steve: Exactly. It’s kind of like the old adage, “If you can’t fix it, you don’t really own it.”

Dale: Exactly. I don’t know if it’s an old adage, we say, “If you can’t open it.

Steve: So you mentioned kits would be a good entrepreneurial opportunity. Do you mean that somebody could create a kit and sell it, like that kind of thing?

Dale: Yeah. So the kit like the pulse sensor is an example. That might have been in an article in the magazine. Often a kit could be a printed circuit board plus parts and you might be soldering those parts on or doing other things. A lot of them are blinky light stuff. We see a lot of interest in that it’s kind of fun, it’s a good experience of making things and so someone comes up with a kit design literally and says, “Here’s the end product, but here are the steps involved in building it yourself.”

If you understand the history of computing, our first personal computers were from kits. Prior to that we had things like Heathkit and they sold early electronic computers, but more importantly, ham radios and oscilloscopes. At the time, in their day and age, it was cheaper to buy a kit than it was to buy the finished product. They went out of business because China got so good at producing the finished products, that the finished product was cheaper than the kit. So, it flipped it around.

I think today the experience is more important than the price and people enjoy the process of making something.

Steve: They are in it for having the experience of having done it so they can say, “I built my radio,” or “I built my computer,” or I built my car.” To them that is more important than saying, “I got a good deal on this stereo.”

Dale: Yes, exactly. I kind of think of it like one of the first framings I had for MAKE was Martha Stewart for geeks. In some ways partly the way you think about even that space is like if you have friend over and maybe you make a pie for them and it’s your pie. You could have gone to the grocery store and bought a pie and I’m sure it would be okay. But it means something that you did that for your friends and you’re a little bit more proud of that when you serve it and they ask you for the recipe for that pie? Oh, it’s my mother’s. It’s something like that. It leads to an interesting conversation and an interesting experience.

Steve: I’ve never found a good, store-bought, lasagna, but I do make a decent lasagna from scratch.

Dale: I’m a pretty good cook myself and I like those analogies to food.

Steve: People like to be social. That is so true. Okay, so, one last question. I know you have to go and I don’t want to take up too much of your time. You mentioned the computer industry got started out with kits and from what I have been seeing it seems like the 3D printers is in a kit. It’s almost like it’s mirroring the whole desktop manufacturing. It’s in that kit phase. There are really expensive machines available to corporations, people with lots of money kind of like computers were 20-30 years ago. Then there are kits which are available to everyone else. But then eventually the computers became cheap enough and it seems like that’s where we are going. Can you offer any thoughts on that?

Dale: It’s a model from the past. It’s nice to reference it, but it’s hard to necessarily say that 3D printers are going to be as prevalent as personal computers. We don’t really know, but I think underlying it is there this sort of democratization around the tools and technologies that we’re using that continues and we are in a sense giving new powers to people and to more people. It’s pretty amazing what they do with it. Sometimes the world seems to be alliances. We’re like, “Oh, we need these incentives for people to learn or to experience.” I’m kind of coming in sometimes saying, “Hey, look what they do on their own,” sometimes without any economic incentive or without anything. Just because they are personally passionate about it because they make social connections in doing so. Look at the creativity. Look at the value of creation that has happening here. It’s pretty amazing. How do you become part of that and tap into it even if you are a business or just as an individual?

Steve: That’s really cool. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time…

Dale: Okay, Steve, stay in touch. It was nice to meet you.

Steve: I will. Thank you.

Dale: Okay.

Steve: Have a good one.

Image CC Thomas Hawk via Flickr

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