The thing with maker spaces I think is

that they too easily become nerd-collectives, and fail to attract the non-makers with occasional projects, or even appear unwelcoming and off-putting to them without being aware of that.


the success of maker spaces ultimately does not lie in attracting those that would be makers anyway, now just with cooler machines, but in turning occasional making and creative tinkering into the new normal for a much broader group.

It was apparent to me in visiting the Cambridge MakerSpace this week, as it is apparent in all FabLabs, Hackspaces and other varieties of maker space I have visited across Europe.

The Cambridge MakeSpace, excellent facilities.

2 reactions on “The Thing With Maker Spaces

  1. Olle Jonsson and I spent a good amount of time on this point during a recent weekend of discussions in Berlin, and it’s an issue that has come up again as I work on the fringes of a nascent Fablab here in Prince Edward Island.

    On my “tour of European maker spaces” last summer I saw both ends of the spectrum: the Enschede space, which I found welcoming and unimposing, and the Malmö space, which I found “gentleman’s club”-like. Both were cool spaces with well-meaning people doing good things, but the way they presented themselves to the world was quite different.

    Somewhere between an brittle “this is a cool space reserved for super-intelligent people who want to make things you can’t even begin to understand” on one hand – which turns off many – and a completely dumbed down “you can’t touch the machines because they’re too dangerous for you, so let me”, which turns off many, but for a different reason, must be an approach that is at once welcoming, safe and likely to engage with the general population.

    The machines and the software are easy compared to finding this sweet spot.

  2. Hi Peter, indeed. It also depends on the moment. Your experience in Enschede is very different from mine, and to a large extend that has to do with staffing choices as well. It’s the need for a ‘uber-maker’ to be able to maintain the space, help people up to speed quickly and the need for someone who can very much let go, is able to transfer knowledge, to communicate at the same plane as the visitor. At the same time the first crowd into the door is seemingly always the group that was already making things on their own and now have a communal meeting point for it. So it can go unnoticed quite long you’re not reaching the broader groups of people envisioned before launch. It ties very much into the viability of these spaces in the long run as well.

    As to Cambridge, they told me they have some 130 members now (started in May I think). It will be interesting to see the number of members developing over time. That’s harder to do in the Dutch FabLabs, they don’t have memberships and less overview of who is coming through the door. My notion of Hackspaces in the Netherlands (all membership structures), is that they have a fairly stable number of people involved, which I think is pointing to my ‘first group in the door’ remark earlier in this comment.

    I realize, writing this, that I am not aware of any Dutch fablab / makerspace that has a clear idea or connected actions / tactics of whom to attract from where. More like ‘let’s see who shows up’.

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