Instructables

Reflecting on my AiResidency

I was first introduced to Instructables by Noah (the AiR guru) as we became friends working as river guides for the same outfitter.  Over the past few years, he'd continually encouraged me to apply to be an Artist in Residence to get a glimpse of the community and work on some cool projects.  Finally, last fall, we organized my residency to fall nicely between my recent trip to New Zealand and the upcoming rafting season.  I was excited to get a chance to work in the Instructables office, but because of the timing my residency was limited to only 5 weeks.

In such a short time, it was difficult to really get going in a high gear but I still produced a few interesting projects - a journal pen holder, a license plate frame, a clock, an ammo can silverware organizer, and a light-up pint glass coaster (check out my profile for the projects).  It was very liberating to be in charge of myself completely - not only in deciding which direction to go within a given project but also in deciding which project to do in the first place!  Throw in the proximity to TechShop, RadioShack, Cole Fox Hardware, and the imminent opening of the world's greatest shop at Pier 9, and you've got yourself what may actually be the greatest purely creative opportunity on Earth.

An opportunity like this opens doors for wonderful projects but also lets you more fully understand your own creative style.  I'm 24 and I've been out of college for almost 2 years now, so I'm certainly still discovering my strengths and weaknesses as well as my preferred work style.  One important lesson I learned simply by being immersed in the Instructables community (both in the office and online) was to be completely comfortable just making something just for the sake of making something.  Studying engineering in college tends to make you see making things as black and white - either you're mindlessly fidgeting and tinkering with no clear goal or purpose or you're rigorously applying the methods and principles you spent so many all-nighters practicing - when in reality, the spectrum of design and creation is continuous, and there's no one there to tell you when you can or can't make something using method A or method B.  It's very freeing, and I appreciate my time at Instructables for even indirectly and unintentionally leading me to this realization.

Another personal style I confirmed over the past 5 weeks was what path I like to take in reaching the end of a project.  While some prefer to work meticulously on each step of a project, spending time up front to minimize the number of necessary iterations, I like to reach a functional (but not necessarily pretty or ideally designed) product without worrying too much about the details.  This way, I learn from each iteration what works, what doesn't work, and what others think.  It has pros and cons - on one hand it allows for more ideas to take shape and be tested/prototyped, but on the other hand maybe I also need to work on not rushing to get to that final product.  It's probably a mixture of my time at Stanford's d.school studying their design thinking and prototyping methods and who I am on a deeper level; either way, I've come to this conclusion more concretely as I look back on the last 5 weeks at Instructables where I had such complete control over the trajectory of each project.

Looking back, one thing I may have benefitted from was more interaction and/or collaboration with other folks in the office.  For example, what if each AiR was paired up with someone in the office whose interests and skills aligned with theirs, and it's understood that the AiR can head over to that person's desk if they want to bounce ideas around?  Or even maybe just a weekly check-in with someone - not to make it seem like you're being evaluated but simply so you can share ideas or ask for help on a challenging part of your project at a time dedicated solely to that so the AiR doesn't feel like he or she is interrupting anything.

And now, as I look forward to another summer on the river, I fondly look back on my time with Instructables, excited for what's next for everyone there and myself.  If you're considering applying to be an AiR, do it.  You'll wonder why it took you so long to finally click submit.
 
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