Aside from being an integral part of the Instructables team since 2006, noahw
has also been one of the site's top authors. He has taught hundreds-of-thousands of people how to kiss, weld, solder and cook a turkey. As you can tell from that list alone, his projects cover an eclectic mix of subject areas and he is one of the few people I know who can be accurately described as a jack of all trades. I recently had the chance to corner him and ask him a few questions about his projects, his thoughts on making and his future plans.
Your Instructables cover a wide range of disciplines, what would you say is your area of expertise?
My area of expertise is pretty broad, but not always terribly deep. I'm very good at tasting pizza and telling people if it's good or not. I'm also good at undertaking large endeavors, be them in duration, physical size, or logistical nature. I'm a white water rafting guide during the summers and I've been working with wood and have been around shops since I was a kid. I've built custom speakers for quite a few years and really enjoy flying large kites in windy places. I love to eat good food, and so I also love to cook. How do these things combine to create a specific area of expertise? I don't think they do, they're just all things that I'm interested in and that I like to learn about. I try to make up for whatever I may lack in substantive "expert" knowledge in an area with enthusiasm, creativity, and having an open mind to taking risks.
Is there anyone in particular who has been inspirational to your creative work?
Creation has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My dad and I used to build imaginary cityscapes out of wood together when I was a kid. When I got older we worked one summer together building a deck in the backyard. If there was ever anything that needed to be done, in the grand sense of the word, he was there - doing it. My mom is on the other end of the spectrum. She's a dreamer, a thinker, an intellectual, a wanderer. As a kid, and even to this day, we'd spend a lot of time imagining how things could be, visiting places that were physically high up, or at the edge of things - like the beach. Pretty much any place where you could get a broad view and set your eyes to the horizon. I feel pretty fortunate to have been able to learn from people with those talents and qualities. Their proclivities have taught me to connect the "dreaming" area of my brain with the "doing" part - a link that I feel is at the ground level of creativity.
Having made almost a hundred Instructables, if you were to pick the one that best reflects who you are, which would that be?
The Giant Light Brite resonates really well with me - it's a project that is instantly recognizable when someone sees it and requires no explanation regardless of whether you're a kid or an adult. It's something that I built for the sole purpose of having fun, and fun is a pretty good personal incentive. I found that mounting 12 rolls of toilet paper in my bathroom greatly improved my quality of life, so I guess that project represents a little bit of who I am and my relationship to utility as an inspirational force. If I had to chose one single thing though that best reflects who I think I am I'd have to go with Roasting a Pig. It's an Instructable that I've had in the works now for a long time but never got around to publishing. The pig roast is an amazing celebration that feeds a community both literally and figuratively, and represents a certain combination of celebration, self reliance, survival, and of course delicious piggy that sits really really well with me and my belly.
Is there a new skill that you would like to learn?
I'd really like to learn how to work on cars and pioneer the field of At-Home Dentistry. I'd also like learn how to build a house from start to finish. I've done some basic home improvement, but would really love to gain the skills that would allow me to build my own place. Shelter, basic auto maintenance and dental bills - I've done some math and these seem to be some of the largest expenses in life where I consistently say to myself "I could have done that" after paying the bill. There are also a lot of skills that I'd like to learn in a group setting - skills that implicitly involve a community. On one end of the spectrum are things like a barn raising and home schooling consortiums, on the other, a live action adventure vacation where a dedicated team of people re-create The Oregon Trail, complete with river crossings, broken wagon wheels, and the occasional bacterial infection. I am now accepting applications for participants!
How do you personally determine what a successful Instructable is?
I think that the success of an Instructable can be gauged by a few different factors. Pageviews, comments, and blog coverage are all things that I monitor when I publish something on the site. That being said, I've made some great stuff (in my opinion) which never gained any traction at all, and even after a few years, still has only a few thousand views, so that's certainly not the whole picture. If you broaden your question to include personal reward as an indicator of success, then I think the projects that are the most successful are the ones that result in those great comments where someone tells you that they actually tried making what you shared, or the ones that you just can't wait to show off to your friends and family.
High five or low five?
Definitely high five, and then finish it up with the no-look low five followup like in the Top Gun volley ball scene. And while we're on the subject of high fives, it helps a lot if you look at the elbow of the person who you're high fiving on the approach, and not at their hand. This little nugget has helped me so many times that it's virtually erased all indication of the fact that I never played organized sports as a kid.
With years of accumulated Instructables wisdom, if you could give one piece of advice to another member who is about to start their first Instructable, what would it be?
I'd recommend paying special time and attention to taking a good photo. Almost any project will be interesting to look at if it's been documented with beautiful pictures, and by that same logic, even the best most amazing project will look unfinished and sloppy if the photos don't show it off.
You have recently announced your resignation from your position at Instructables. What is next for noahw?
I'm slated to have a whole lot of time spent in the outdoors for the next little while. I'll be scuba diving in Mexico in May, leading rafting trips in Oregon during the summer and then traveling back to visit some of the farms in Europe that I worked at several years ago to pop in, see what's new, and best of all, eat some freshly made sheep cheese. Once the winter comes and my fun-time-savings account has been sufficiently drained, I'll come back to the bay area and try to find some opportunities that will help me learn some of the skills that I mentioned I'd like to explore earlier…who really knows what's coming next anyway, half the fun is simply being open to finding out. Regardless of what my future holds, it's been a great ride at Instructables - and I'm not just referring to the website, but to the community, the workplace and the creative process it allowed me to have as a whole. It's an experience that will always stay with me.