The maker-turn

Late in 2019 I was preparing for the move of MF6M out to a new campus. Only this campus would not have conventional classrooms or studio spaces. Instead it would have maker spaces. Seeing this as an opportunity for change – like a Mike Metty Pivot – I embraced the move. The questions that immediately presented themselves were – what form of the contemporary would this align to? How could the learning event become a unique exemplar of peer to peer learning? I then commenced walking in the shoes of the student. This was going to be a deep rabbit hole.

Educational Furniture - Herman Miller | Office chair design, Furniture,  Comfy living room
Source Herman Miller

Leaving behind a ‘studio space’ that is made up of a large table surrounded by chairs was not going to be hard. I have taught in many different kinds of ‘studio’ spaces through my career. Some were dedicated spaces, some were shared spaces. Some spaces were ‘designerly’, others were mostly just rooms – with tables and chairs. Most were configurable, students sat on the floor, on tables and hung around in various body poses – aka spaces did not proscribe. Of course affluence heralded the arrival of the architectural program, and the highly constrained and efficient (aka small) space – each thing in its place. Organised, defined, or as Eliot eloquently said it:

“And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall”

The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock, T S Eliot.
1999, Bezalel, Jerusalem, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a stretch to activate students in a space that was configured like an office meeting room. The tables and chairs did have wheels, so the rooms had offerred the opportunity to be rearranged for different activities. Still, it was a sit down and talk space. This move to the makerspace could be made to be far more significant. I could consciously enact leaving behind all these bodily-practices, teaching and learning in meeting rooms, and using body in meeting room ways. Of course I desultorily pondered: Would I miss the Herman Miller Chairs? Would Inviting Tisha (Johnson) the CDO of Herman Miller, who I have been chatting with ever since she left Volvo, compensate for the loss of the sensory experience? No, these were not top of mind thoughts.

2018 SFDW: Stanford d.school, A Design Process Introspection | San  Francisco Design Week
DSchool. Image Source LINK

The rabbit hole infact took me in the imaginary to San Francisco, to the Jacobs Institute and DSchool where I spent some time in 2016.

Bantam Tools Blog — UC Berkeley's Jacobs Institute Invites Innovation  Through Interdisciplinary Programming
Image result for jacobs institute berkeley | Home decor, Home, Design
Jacobs Institute, UC Berkeley

We would be able to have activated classes with bins, materials and an environment of quick and dirty modelling. I made lists of materials, maps in Google maps of places to buy materials, collected waste cardboard and textiles – and imagined, for a little while at least, that the spirit of DSchool could be recreated. That was not to be, partly because pedagogy yearnings of tutors and organizing impulses of the owners of the space never meet in a conversation. Basically new purpose built spaces should not be allowed to get messy, mess is dangerous. There are cleaners who have work to do in the building. The challenges at the intersection of the yearnings of creatives and the ordering impulses driving the ecologies of expensive infrastructure is best kept as the subject of late night rants. The space does not belong to the student, even for Sprints and Intensives.

So we have makerspaces – that we occupy for 3 hours and get out. Till a week later when we occupy these spaces for another three hours. Very different from when I taught at ENSCI, where students had permanent spaces in the studio. Very hovel like, messy and completely gorgeous. Students have the spaces, 24×7, for a week, a few weeks and for the whole semester. Or as Eliot said it:

There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Team:Pasteur Paris/Design Biology - 2016.igem.org
ENSCI Paris

So the question then becomes – how do you enact a rapid studio, as a makerspace? For the studio was primarily a pinup activity, followed by working in groups. So the time for the enactment of ‘making’ in a ‘makerspace’ is further reduced. What then is the point? Does situating design learning in a makerspace – where the workshop environment is merely a backdrop have a purpose? I think it does. Small, but effective. We are not sitting! We are standing! And if the students show initiative they can return to this place after class – to make. This is yet to be investigated – ‘do you come back and make here?’ For in 2020, we were only in this space for 3 weeks before we went online for the rest of the year. Which the students loved! The online experience was so good the students voted with stratospheric-ally high satisfaction scores.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,

While the course were purpose built for the makerspace, the fact that there was not content (we use a flipped classroom), the fact that the teachers ‘do not speak’ (aka 42 Silicon Valley) and the fact that we set up teams as a corporate-manufacturing style collaboration environment for student teams – made for an impactful transition online. There are no lectures in these courses, and no tutorials. Yet, I ponder.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

Which then brings me to the second pivot. In 2021 one tutorial group in each studio (each studio has three tutorial groups) was to be offerred online. However the course on manufacturing – Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) – was to be completely online. This last gave me pause – I had built the model of the IDE course in 2017, for a 2018 start, as activating students to be an enterprise that would taste the hunger of getting things made. This program had run for three years, being tweaked each semester. For the 3 years (6 semesters) till in 2020, it had served as a lean and precise capacity building module focussed upon “entering, looking around and doing” within a simulated factory setting. It hadn’t been built for the online.

Students over three years, some 360 of them, had been let loose on the city and the manufacturers. To write to, to call and to entreat manufacturers to let them visit the factories. To see, to hang out, to witness manufacturing close up. Wil spent hours in a surfboard factory and came back with these delectable images. Indelibly written into his memory is the resin and how it behaves when it is in the skateboard, or when it dribbles away as waste. He made a lamp, an intervention in that factory – by inviting the craftsperson to discard the waste resin into mould he placed here and there. Wil was in his first 6 months at university when he allowed himself to witness manufacturing as it occurred.

Photos, Wil, Resin case study, MF6M, 2018

This act of witnessing is what we are going to stop. The student shall not be allowed to witness, and enact bodily learning. The learning would have to be more cerebral. Is this a loss? Of something valuable?

And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Yet at this point another rabbit hole opens up. How can this pivot be a lightening bolt, a shot of adrenaline, a boost – something significant and transformative for the student? Something that activates them to own this knowledge in their body, and then in their mind too? Design, I am pushing, is about knowing in the body. Like a dancer. Then it is also about knowing in the mind. But just, exclusively, knowing in the mind – that is a disaster for design, as a form of the university echo chamber.

“That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”

We could be looking at a another form of learner centered, learner curated knowledge acquisition and capability development journey. Take a look at the zine-book here. In this book I am setting out the key principles of contemporary education, and key principles of education in design. That is the method focus. I then allow the contemporary to enter into the content space. So I ask – how is the notion of Industry 4.0 or the notion of distributed manufacturing to serve as the gateway into understanding manufacturing?

Pedagogy in 4 Parts

Describes the enactment of learning as comprising: the flipped classroom, the pinup review, the breakout sessions and the tutorial (this is new – I am still mulling this. Is the teacher then to be allowed to speak?).

The Program in 3 Parts

Comprises the Design Sprint, the Design Challenge and the Project.

Distributed Manufacturing

There is a deeper fundamental question in situated design education – what is worth doing? What is worth learning for students who will graduate in 2025? And here the notion of engineering gets interesting. Into this I throw in the maker movement, loss of manufacturing (and the reclaiming of manufacturing), covid and closed borders. I stir this and arrive at a focus upon ‘distributed manufacturing’. Massaged and re-imagined as doing a Marie Kondo on the mess that is – what is the content in the commodious receptacle that is engineering for industrial designers? – I arrive at a place of quiet. A centre as it were of a narrative. Which has the advantage of constituting a discourse that can be held. As a space.

But first, this is brilliant for one crucial reason. It allows me to imagine the learning in this classroom – see image below. The bedroom of the student is where they are when they enact the session with the fellow students and the tutor. Dare I include this room as part of a notion of a distributed campus? Dare I imagine an intervention that enacts a re-imagining of this space for educational purposes?

This is a placeholder for students in student accommodation, in their bedroom at home, or in their room in a sharehouse. This is the classroom, the studio, the makerspace.

If there is model making to be done, then is this real estate available, to accommodate a place for making? Dare I imagine an exercise “make a makerspace” and document the process and stages? Can this be a location on the map of distributed manufacture?

Which is when I took a break, and made the PPT into a flip book, and decided to write down my thoughts. Before I head off to lunch with some very social PhD students. This is a live document. I will come back, repeatedly, to add to this post as the thinking progresses.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Note: I coordinate three courses in the first year of an Industrial Design Program in Australia. Begun in 2018, I have wrapped this work into a project titled My First 6 Months that channels contemporary wisdom of learning into practice.

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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