The Maker Movement is maybe most recognizable as an urban label that covers the people creating one-off pieces for the home, small-batch preserves, silkscreened posters, hand-knit scarves and things that in a practical world could have been mass manufactured. They emphatically aren’t. It’s all about DIY.
The rise of Etsy as an online craft and design marketplace has certainly helped the Maker Movement become as big as it has. New retail software solutions like Shopify are making it easier for independent designers, artists, cooks and other creative people to set up shops for their one-off pieces. The Maker Movement’s changing consumerism with unique objects that have a story, curated by people with a point of view and unfiltered by big retail. At its heart lies hope and a quest for something real.
Yet for all its warm and fuzzy homemade, post-consumer values, the Maker Movement also includes developments in hardware technology that draw on the geeky creative with DIY tech such as 3D printing, robotics and electronics that are exploring the range of things people can make on their own. Not restricted to developers, these technologies are democratically fully accessible; The Toronto Public Library bought a 3D printer so regular people can print out their designs and the Toronto Tool Library is lending out tools you might need for a project, but don’t really want to buy. Robotics kits to build your own drone and Raspberry Pi computers can be bought from online marketplaces that make creative tech inviting, such as Grand St.
As the Maker Movement has been maturing, so have the places to find and market custom-made pieces. Custom Made started in Boston, founded by two guys who were looking for unique one-off home furnishings. They had a vision: “We believe that everyone should try custom, and we think that buying custom from local Makers is a viable alternative to buying from big box retailers.” They set out to fundamentally change how people thought about buying furniture and build a platform to change the consumer experience. Two infusions of cash from Google Ventures have propelled them to a marketplace with 50,000 or more pieces at any time, made by 12,000 Makers, with more than 100,000 buyers – a sign the Maker Movement can be small and local, yet definitely a thing.
Sidebar: The history of the Maker Movement might go back to the Industrial Revolution and the artisan movements which developed in reaction to industrialization; William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh were responsible for a resurgence of art and craft in design in Victorian England’s and Scotland’s noisy, grey factory towns and cities. This was art and design with social purpose that brought back traditional processes, resulting in a rise of craft in textile design and architecture with new aesthetics.
And maybe it’s nerdy design anthropology, but it might account for the inspiration for Steam Punk; the narrow slice of Millennial style that’s drawn from Victorian, Edwardian and industrial influences in fashion, beauty and grooming, art, design and music that’s been trickling into the mainstream with an old-time aesthetic applied to modern living.Hackathons fit into the tech side of the Maker Movement – at their root, they’re collective events, generally running day and night over a weekend, where developers come together with shared purpose to create hacks that are workarounds or solutions for systemic or process-based problems.
While there’s a growing number of community-driven grassroots hackathon organizations, particularly in the places technology is flourishing, a parallel stream of hackathons has emerged as events backed by companies invested in innovation. It’s not only Google that’s interested in the new ideas coming out of hackathons; as MasterCard has been redefining itself as a technology company in the fast-changing financial tech space, it launched N>XT as a hackathon to challenge developers to ideate on the retail payment solutions of the future. Offering cash prizes with teams retaining the rights to their work, corporate-backed hackathons like this are helping big brands cultivate valuable relationships in the tech world and inspire new thinking within, supporting their agendas to innovate.
Encouraging social innovation within the tech community is the purpose behind. PayPal’s Battlehack, which did weekend-long hackathons in 16 cities worldwide this year. The winner for the Toronto hackathon in June was Security Blanket, a solution using mobile crowdsourcing to find lost children and get them home safely. The global finalists all meet in San Jose this weekend for the ultimate hack for good – and a shot at a $100,000 prize.
Community-based groups like Startup Weekend, which started in Seattle, and Canadian-founded nonprofit, Hackernest, share an educational purpose to help young tech talent succeed by building their skills and supporting them with what they need for growth and success. Hackernest positions itself as “Rescuing nerds from isolated basements, offices, and code tunnel vision. Everywhere.” Well, in a lot of cities anyway – from Vancouver to Tiblisi to Kuala Lumpur.
In between the grassroots groups and the corporate world, there are loads of university-based events and one-off mini-hackathons put on by startups to seed new software applications for technologies being developed. I was invited to one that was hosted by Bionym, the company that founded Nymi, the wristband that reads your heartbeat, which has a pattern as unique as a fingerprint. The wristband can be used for ultra-secure biometric sign-ins to your computer or your home through proximity sensing. They’re testing the wristband for cardless payments and have been building new applications for the technology. The event was supporting their partnership at the time with Tesla, to explore new concepts for the connected car. For me, it was a fascinating deep dive as I was put in a group to brainstorm new applications for the technology paired with the car with people I'd just met; creative thinking on the kind of stuff I don’t generally get creative about.
Hackathons are like a petri dish for new ideas, showing how the singularity of developer-driven events can spark innovation in big brands when the barriers to newness are sidestepped. Consumer brands have been taking note of different aspects of the Maker Movement, as technology’s fundamentally altered audience behavior and expectations.
In my next piece, I'll be writing about five ways the Maker Movement has been influencing audience engagement for big brands.
Many thanks to Paul Dotey for the use of the photo of his streetscape art painted for a Starbucks store on College St, photographed by David Pike.
Brenda van Ginkel
Every great brand that's making a difference to people or the planet deserves to stand out and be noticed. I write about creative direction and brand strategy for entrepreneurs and those supporting them, packaging concepts with messaging for growth and audience engagement in a crowded, noisy digital space.