Introduction: DIY Projects, Communities and Cultures

A year or so ago, we invited DIY enthusiasts from Instructables, Ravelry, Adafruit, Craftster, Dorkbot, and Etsy to fill out our survey on DIY communities, projects, and cultures. We received 2600+ responses in just a few weeks. Many many thanks to everyone who contributed!!

In this 'Instructable', we share some of our findings. We explore DIY as a broad cultural movement, spanning many domains and materials. This is just one way- and one starting point- for understanding DIY communities, motivations and practices. We would love to hear your feedback!

Please check out our paper. All images are taken from my talk at NordiCHI. Freel free to download the full slide deck as a pdf or a set of images.

Stacey Kuznetsov and Eric Paulos
{ stace, paulos } @
Human Computer Interaction Institute
Carnegie Mellon University

Step 1: Some Background

We adopt the Wikipedia definition of DIY (Do It Yourself) as any creation, modification or repair of objects without the aid of paid professionals. 

DIY practices predate recorded history as human survival often relied on the ability to repair and repurpose tools and materials. Over the past few decades, new materials and sharing mechanisms have led to a wider adoption of DIY culture.

One of the earliest “modern era” DIY communities formed among amateur radio hobbyists in the 1920’s. Ham radio communication continued even during World War II, when a ban was placed on amateur radio communication.

Starting in the 1970's, enthusiasts created 'zines' to express the punk aesthetic. Other early examples include non-professionals experimenting with MIDI equipment in the 1980's and the subsequent rave culture; or numerous hacker communities of the 90's.

Thousands of DIY communities exist today, varying in size, organization and project structure. Some allow members to contribute asynchronously on a variety of topics, while others focus on specific projects such as knitting or hip craft. Some revolve around smaller in-person gatherings and some enable hobbyists to trade or sell their projects.  

We focus on a subset of these as a sample of the diverse materials, practices and sharing mechanisms among DIY practitioners.

Step 2: Survey Respondents

We collected 2608 responses, with participants’ ages from 18 to 95. The response rate is overwhelmingly female (2287 female, 186 male, 11 transgender). A large number of our respondents are from knitting and crocheting communities. Perhaps our overwhelmingly female response rate is due to a female majority in Ravelry and Craftster (71% and 68% respectively).

Overlap across communities
Despite the large response pool, less than 20 participants belong exclusively to only one of Instructables, Adafruit, Dorkbot or Etsy. Participants from all six of the studied communities indicate involvement in other DIY groups, including Flickr, LiveJournal, Yahoo Groups, ThreadBanger, Make Magazine, Knitter’s Review, deviantART, Cut Out + Keep, and Crochetville.

Some of our respondents explained that they belong to more that one community to be able exchange ides with people of diverse backgrounds. Other responses highlight that different communities provide different ‘audiences’, and the importance of community size.

Step 3: Contributions to DIY Communities

Over 90% of our respondents contribute to DIY communities through questions, comments and answers.

While nearly 87% of participants also post images of their projects at least once a year, much fewer respondents showcase personal work through step-by-step instructions and videos. In particular, videos are the rarest contribution (more rare than in-person interactions) with less than 8% of participants ever sharing a video.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that only 5% of respondents are members of Dorkbot, the only community that officially revolves around in-person meetings, a third of respondents attend in-person meetings and over a quarter present their work in-person at least several times a year.

Qualitative responses suggest that in-person meetings range from “a group of friends” to informal “knit-along’s”, to larger “evening gathering[s] for the community”, often organized outside of the six communities from our study.

Step 4: Motivations for Contributing to DIY Projects

Above all else, our participants contribute to DIY communities to get “inspiration and new ideas for future projects” (81% strongly agree, 16% agree) and to “learn new concepts” (68% strongly agree, 29% agree). 

A large portion of free responses emphasizes fun as a motivation: “have fun!” or “it’s fun!” Other comments revolve around learning, for instance: “to learn new techniques”, and community bonds: to “socialize” or “to feel connected to other like-minded people”. 

The majority of participants are not driven by “finding employment” or “improving online reputation”, with 68% and 60% disagreeing with each motivation, respectively.

Question answering as an instrument of learning
How is responding to others’ questions (most frequent contribution) related to learning and inspiration (most supported motivations)? Following up with our respondents, we simply asked: why do you answer questions in DIY communities? Our respondents suggested that the act of answering questions helps them learn! For example, one person told us: "By responding, I have also gotten feedback on what I posted, and in at least 2 cases, was able to correct technique that (it turns out) I was doing wrong.”)

Step 5: DIY Projects

The majority of our respondents (90%, 2285 in total) contribute to DIY projects.

We asked our participants to select the categories that describe their projects. The majority (94%) of our survey participants who work on DIY projects contribute to craft projects such as knitting or sewing. Other popular categories include food/cooking (51%), art (44%), and home improvement (35%). Most respondents contribute to more than one category, and all categories significantly overlap with craft (by 70% or more) and cooking (58% or more). Electronics is an exception, overlapping with craft by only 43% and cooking by 40%. Free response project categories range from “gardening” to “photography” to “automotive” among others.

Step 6: DIY, Time and Money

Nearly two thirds of respondents spend between $11 and $50 on a typical project, and the vast majority (84%) does not get paid for their projects.

Project cost correlates with project completion time (more than 87% of participants who spend under $25 on a project finish it in under 30 hours, while more than half of projects that cost above $500 require over 100 hours to finish).

For 66% of respondents, a typical project takes less than 30 hours to finish (with 21% of respondents spending 1-5 hours, 24% spending 6-10 hours, and 31% spending 11-30 hours on a typical project).

We did not find a direct correlation between the time spent and amount earned per DIY project.

Step 7: Motivations for Working on DIY Projects

An overwhelming majority (97%) of our participants work on DIY projects in order to “Express myself/be creative”.

“Learn new skills” is the second most supported motivation for doing DIY work (52% agree, 39% strongly agree).

The least popular reason is to “Gain internet fame or reputation” with more than 70% of respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with this motivation. “Make money” is the second least popular motivation (25% disagree, 15% strongly disagree). 

Step 8: Sharing DIY Projects With DIY Communities

More than 90% of our respondents share at least some of their projects with DIY communities.

Lack of time is the primary reason for not sharing projects with DIY communities, as indicated by over half of our respondents. Other common deterrents are respondents’ negative assessments of their projects (lack of creativity, novelty or complexity).

Less than 10% cite poor editing or uploading skills as a reason for not sharing, and slightly more respondents (15%) indicate that they do not have the right equipment to document their work.  

Step 9: Influential Aspects of DIY Communities

Lastly, we asked which aspects of DIY communities tend to influence our respondents' DIY projects. 

The majority of out respondents emphasize images of other projects (over 60%), followed by step-by-step instructions (over 40%). Surprisingly, feedback on projects is found “very influential” by less than 20% of participants, despite the fact that it is one of the most frequent contributions.

Despite being the least common contribution, videos are deemed ‘very influential’ by almost 17% of respondents.

Step 10: Thanks!

Our work explores DIY as a vibrant culture with a long history of learning, creating and sharing. We hope that our study inspires more discussion and future collaboration within and across DIY and academic communities.

We thank everyone for completing our survey!

Feel free to check out our paper or download the full slide deck as a pdf or a set of images