Mapping Maker Concepts
This week, Kyle, Lauren and I continued our research into “makers” working contract jobs with variable income. We examined the insights we crafted last quarter and began pushing ourselves to view our findings from more radical perspectives, so that we can discover new ways of thinking about the problems we face. We also re-examined some concept models we created, fine-tuning them with information we learned from our readings last week, and began thinking of some new concept models to help us reframe our data and better foster the new perspectives we seek. Some models we explored include a semantic zoom of the maker ecosystem, a temporal zoom of a maker’s potential career trajectory, and concept maps exploring the maker growth cycle, the value of a makers’ art as it correlates to their network, and examinations of makers’ jobs, values, and more.
Semantic zoom allowed us to view makers from new perspectives based on the ecosystem around them. We started with makers at the center and branched out to explore their support system, their networks, their values, their money, and their specific occupations. In our semantic zooms, we looked at their network and money in particular, using it to look at these concepts in greater focus. Examining their money allowed us to look at their income and expenses in detail, which led us to examine their business expenses in particular more closely. This allowed us to understand in more depth than previously just how much money it takes to promote yourself, to buy materials, to attend trade conferences, and to potentially start a business. Similarly, looking at their network gave us greater insight into how social events play an important role in building a network. In addition to conferences and festivals, we enjoyed brainstorming all of the different volunteer opportunities that people can pursue to build their network. For makers operating on small budgets, such experiences can prove very useful.
For our temporal zoom, we focused on exploring a hypothetical artist’s transition from art school to an independent contractor to a small business owner and, eventually, to retirement. Although we did not speak to anyone who experienced all of these stages, we were able to pull data from the various people we did speak to to create a potential lifecycle, with retirement influenced by the dreams that makers shared with us. What would it take to realize those dreams? One path to get there could be to create a business, something that some (but not all) makers working as independent contractors explore.
The temporal zoom was surprising because it forced us to focus on how priorities change over an artist’s life, and what sort of sacrifices and commitments would be necessary to truly shift into a business perspective. Many of our interviewees told us that they despised administrative work, and this emerged as a potential road block to building a business strategy. With business creation, we saw administrative focus balloon as free time and personal work shrunk — a tradeoff that does not fit all makers’ desires. However, as it allows for income to grow and debt to shrink, later dreams such as owning property and having greater free time to focus on personal projects grows, especially in retirement, something that most makers working as independent contractors did not envision. The temporal zoom shows one potential pathway to getting there.
We created seven different concept models this week; some were revisions from models we created last quarter, and some were new models created when re-examining our data. Our Makers’ Values model demonstrates the priority makers place on agency and fulfillment over financial security, an insight that we found particularly helpful in our framing. Our Makers’ Checklist model captures makers’ different behaviors, demonstrating how makers live as “systems outlaws,” as we’ve described them. Our Networking model demonstrates that the value of an artist’s work is directly correlated to the size of their network, an insight that captures the importance that many of our interviewees place on getting themselves out there and being confident with all audiences, and our Energy Tank model shows the many obligations that makers working as independent contractors face, not just as it relates to finding work but also to paying taxes, finding health insurance, and other essential tasks. Seeing just how much is required to procure these things when you don’t work for a single employer was eye-opening, and made us feel greater empathy with those we spoke with.
Other models include the Maker’s Growth Spiral, which shows how makers’ art feeds into their work, which allows them to get money, which they use to further their art. These actions inform each other and allow makers to grow in all directions: in their creative abilities, in their work experiences, and in the income they bring in. The Makers’ Network model shows how networks influence the jobs makers take: as they grow, they take on bigger tasks, which requires them to seek out their network for assistance, thus providing other makers with opportunity. Eventually, as they get busier and their workload increases, makers stop taking smaller jobs, which they might then refer to a friend, and the cycle continues. Our last model, the Makers Occupation model, shows the types of work that makers do, and captures the overlap that many of our makers demonstrate. Many of our interviewees indicated a desire to constantly expand their abilities and branch out into new areas of work, and this graph demonstrated their multitalented capabilities with newfound clarity.
Progress and Priorities
This week, we were pleased with the number of concept models we crafted, and we hope to create more as we continue in this class. This allows us to expand our visual vocabularies and begin thinking of new and more insightful ways of approaching our data and sharing it with others, which will lead to greater insights and better design criteria. Our temporal and semantic zooms presented a more detailed look at makers’ behaviors, attitudes, and values, which will also prove helpful in our work.
The one area we were not able to focus on as much as we would have liked was crafting more provocative and radical insights. Even as we gained new clarity in simplifying our ideas into clear visual models, we have not yet been able to use that clarity to push our insights further. This will be our priority this week, as we continue to comb through our quotes and focus on new areas of significance, particularly those that we paid less attention to when working with JUST. These areas include makers’ mental health, networking, and values. We plan to dedicate time each day to challenging ourselves to brainstorm new insights as we simultaneously begin thinking about design criteria and new ways to address the latent needs of makers.