Design like a maker

-April 14, 2016

In his career as a toy designer, inventor, educator, and research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, Kipp Bradford has watched the evolution of the Maker Movement and in his ESC Boston keynote Wednesday, he shared his vision for its future.

According to Bradford, the next best thing to predicting the future is to understand what the future that we want will be, and then trying to create technologies to make that future possible. But it will take more than pushing the limits of science and technology.

“A lot of my work is trying to be predictive about the future—trying to design the future,” said Bradford. “Engineering has to work hand in hand with designers, artists, and society.”

The way forward is to take a lesson from the movement and design like a maker. Bradford’s idea of designing like a maker means validating quickly, building modularly, standardizing, and sharing solutions.



The Maker Movement has connected people to technology and translated technologies into products in a whole new way. With crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and events like Maker Faire, people can present things they’ve made, and get a response that could indicate if there’s a market for it as a product.

Rather than going through a long research process to decide what to build, people build the thing they like and put it out in the world, and that can lead to some impressive things. Bradford pointed to his MIT Media Lab colleague Hugh Herr, a double amputee, as an example.

“All the things that he’s made Hugh basically says, ‘Yeah, I’m an engineer, but the only thing I care about is walking again, so I’m going to make the things that allow me to walk,’” said Bradford.

A product that has flourished in the maker community is the Arduino platform. Its user-focused design has allowed it to continue to evolve 10 years after its introduction. The drone industry and the 3D printer industry were also built on top of open source platforms.

“Arduino paid deep respect to the humanity of creating technology,” said Bradford. “The thing that was really great about it wasn’t that there was any new technology in it, it was that somebody thought really long and hard about what it means to actually use the technology that we create.”

The success of maker products has highlighted the idea that when technology is made easy, more can be done with it. Reducing friction allows for faster design, which benefits everyone. That’s where engineers come in.

“It’s not makers who are making the technology easy, it’s the people in this room who are doing that,” Bradford told to ESC Boston crowd. “Frictionless frameworks give us super powers as engineers and designers.”

Design tools are key to minimizing friction and empowering designers, but Bradford emphasized the importance of keeping them accessible.

“If you can’t sit down with a 12-year-old and explain it to them and get them using the tool in 15 minutes, then it’s too complex,” said Bradford.

Bradford has had the chance to practice what he preaches, designing products he was interested in, like a portable cooling system for his bedroom that he later sold to the US Air Force for emergency cooling of trauma victims being medevaced, and designing like a maker. During his keynote, he wore a brooch he designed that simulates the spread of the HPV virus. It featured an ultra low power processor driving LEDs, four-layer circuit boards, infrared transceivers, and could communicate to a network of devices.



"This took me a day to design and then I emailed the files off to a company that 3 days later sent me manufactured and assembled boards that I plugged in, downloaded some Arduino code, and got running," said Bradford.

The lessons learned from the Maker Movement have the potential to make the future of innovation bright, and life easier for the world of makers and consumers.

“If you make my life hard with your technology, I’m going to find somebody else’s technology that makes my life easy,” said Bradford.

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For more great keynotes, attend ESC Minneapolis September 21-22, 2016, and learn about the latest techniques and tips for reducing time, cost, and complexity in the embedded development process.

Make sure to follow updates about ESC's talks, programs, and announcements in the ESC Collection and social media accounts Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

The Embedded Systems Conference and EDN are owned by UBM.


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