Most of us have pretty grim memories of design and technology (or home economics) at school. It was that rare non-academic class that somehow managed to be pretty uninspiring, despite the fact that you could, in principle, do or make anything.
But the modern maker movement is nothing of the sort. Thanks to the constantly declining price of hardware, more and more people are setting up small cottage industries, sometimes in their own homes, and just going ahead and making stuff. The nearest historical analogy is what happened right at the outset of the industrial revolutions in the eighteenth century. Because farm equipment was getting a lot better, people didn’t have to be out in the fields all day long, tilling the soil. As a result, they had more spare time, and so they put that spare time to good use, working in their houses to make products, like clothes garments, that they could then sell on market day in the local town.
We’re seeing a similar trend today, but rather than being a precursor to industrialization, it’s the result in deindustrialization – technologies that allow much more to be done on a small scale. Part of the trend is being driven by the internet. Communities of makers are gathering in online hubs and forums and creating different kinds of markets. Etsy, for instance, already has more than a million artisans on its books, making products for both the sharing and the premium economy. According to the latest estimates, the platform has generated more than a billion dollars in revenue, proving that the maker movement isn’t just something being done in a few sheds up and down the country. It’s something that is happening all over the place.
Other tools are also helping the market expand. Kickstarter and Quirky are being used extensively by makers who want to crowdsource their funding. They’re essentially pitching their business ideas to the masses and hoping that they’ll be so excited by the end product that they’re willing to invest in the firm. What’s more, the people who make good investment decisions can expect a handsome kickback to put into their next Kickstarter project.
Since 2005, makers have been going to the Maker Faire, an international gathering of self-described makers all over the world. Since it’s inception, the fair has gathered momentum, and now arrives at in many global cities every year.
The maker movement has also been made a lot more profitable as a result of increasingly “visual” social media sites. For instance, DIY was the number one category on Pinterest this last year, proving that people are genuinely interested in the handicraft of others. Social media is allowing small businesses in the maker movement with good ideas to publicize and advertise their ideas, gaining traction through loyal social media communities.
Even big companies want to get involved in the movement, sensing that we’re on the cusp of something big. General Electric, for instance, has begun supplying things like laser cutters and 3D printers to makers to help kick start their operations and get them selling. Other companies, such as CIS, are providing specialist products, like schedule 80 PVC pipe, PVC fittings, injection molding equipment and customizable electronics. Large enterprises are also renting out their unused facilities on evenings and weekends, giving access to smaller makers to further refine and develop their products. And local organizations are replacing their regular quiz nights with maker events, allowing people to come together and share their ideas for new products.
It’s clear that there’s money to be made here.
Should You Sign Up?
It’s clear that something is happening in this area. But should you sign up? The answer is probably, yes. We live in a world where mass production rules the day. Mass production has many benefits – the most important being that it has traditionally brought down the price of goods. But it has significant disadvantages too, namely the fact that everything is the same and customization is costly.
Businesses that establish themselves in the maker movement have the opportunity to give customers what they want. They can find ways of building products that meet their individual design specifications because they’re building on such a small scale. And they can spearhead the next change in industry, which will be towards lower volumes, higher quality, and greater personalization. After all, who wants the exact same iPhone as everybody else?
The best places for makers right now are in the food sector, the craft sector, and technology. But as the tools develop, so too will the applications.