Makeshift / University of Pennsylvania
The Appropriate Technology “edition” is a compelling take on the course reader providing vivid articles, discussion supports and resources in a package you would want to keep.
As an idea, the magazine is playing in an interesting space between open co-creation and curation with university professors to create customized, personalized, and curricula delivered via traditional print media and online.
Makeshift produces media about innovation in informal economies. We scour the globe—from the favelas of Rio to the seas of Somalia—for stories of ingenious problem solving. This economic fringe, often outside the law, is a sandbox for the next big design, business, and policy innovations. We partner with universities to bring our on-the-ground research and knowledge to students who will have future roles in policy, design, business, nonprofit, and other fields. Makeshift designs custom instructional magazines that share what solutions work in informal economies and how students can improve and scale them.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
About two thirds of the world’s employment is in unregulated informal economies, representing over $10 trillion in annual GDP. Yet, these shadow economies go untracked, and we know little about them. Future leaders need to pay attention to informality so that design and policy interventions can take into account people’s cultural, social, and technological contexts. In addition, the way people do business in informal economies has increasing implications for business models and strategies.
The Makeshift Institute, which publishes custom instructional magazines to fit individualized classroom needs, strives to empower professors to bring new perspectives into their classrooms. With Makeshift’s magazine, students and professors see creative design and social innovation in action, rather than in theory. As a result, ideas are transformed from concepts and into action plans by students who will drive the evolution of society.
In December 2013, we partnered with Sarah Rottenberg at the University of Pennsylvania to create a custom magazine for a graduate-level course in the Integrated Product Design Program. The course studied “Appropriate Technology” – innovations made by creative individuals solving their own problems in their own environments. Our magazine provided narrative data, research, informative callouts, prompts for discussion, and resources for further reading.
Makeshift’s goal is to give professors and students access to our vast network of over 200 researchers, journalists, and photographers who document hidden creativity across themes such as: Re-culture, Mobility, Communication, Crowds, and Trade. Since Makeshift was formed in 2011, we have gathered hundreds of stories about entrepreneurs and makers in the furthest corners of the world, stories that otherwise go untold.
Makeshift’s value to classrooms goes beyond knowledge and narration; we also provide supplementary material (qualitative/quantitative data, infographics, photographs, videos, explanatory texts, discussion questions, additional reading resources, etc.) that build on the magazine articles and the themes taught within each course. For “Appropriate Technology,” we collaborated closely with Sarah Rottenberg to understand the full scope of her course syllabus and to identify what types of stories – matched with engaging infographics, photos, and links – would be beneficial and informative for her students.
Makeshift went through a rigorous research and design phase to identify how to best serve classrooms, professors, and students via our custom instructional magazines. We partnered with a social innovation and design consultancy (The Design Gym) to determine how to effectively bring our research to the classroom. Our team of consultants worked directly with Makeshift staff and brought to the table extensive work experience in consulting, design, marketing, education, and entrepreneurship.
We conducted in-depth interviews with ten professors at leading universities (e.g., Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, School of Visual Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Parsons) who teach courses spanning design, engineering, entrepreneurship, architecture, sociology, and economics. From this research, we gleaned important considerations, such as the instructors’ ability to customize and co-curate curricula. In addition, we reviewed numerous examples of current narratives, supplementary materials, and books that professors share with their students.
After the research phase, we designed a prototype of the custom instructional magazine and received feedback from each of the instructors we initially interviewed. During this iteration phase, we were able to test out various activities and curricula “add-ons” to identify the best content that we could provide. In addition, our prototypes allowed us to experiment with multiple design and layout options. Ultimately, our extensive research, prototype, and design process allowed us to communicate with and learn from the key stakeholders who would be using Makeshift’s instructional magazines.
The final product of our research and design phase was greatly influenced by Makeshift’s passionate and experienced staff:
- Steve Daniels, the founder of Makeshift, is passionate about street-level ingenuity. He has published Making Do, which chronicles his research on Kenya’s informal engineering systems, and conducted primary research for the UN on intellectual property in the informal economy. By day, he helps lead design transformation e?orts at IBM, where he has published and ?led several papers and patents. He is the founder of the A Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and has spoken at TED, SXSW, and the New York Forum.
- Justin Levinson leads the Makeshift Institute. A maker at heart, he left the world of ?nance and technology consulting to go down the winding and bumpy path of startup life. Along the way, he served as partner at Mutopo, a consulting ?rm using crowdsourcing to tackle complex problems for Fortune 500 companies, and developed a crowdsourced fashion trend forecasting company. Justin also helps run Hack Manhattan, a nexus of maker culture in New York.
- Matt Prindible is a researcher for the Makeshift Institute. With a passion for technology and an eye toward the future, he’s currently an associate for a boutique management consulting ?rm. His most recent work focuses on strategic technology roadmapping and advanced manufacturing for small and medium enterprises. Matt previously starred in a variety of roles at a major entertainment company while developing next-generation digital/physical experiences for millions to enjoy.
Makeshift was founded in 2011 by Steve Daniels, a designer at IBM Research in New York, and Myles Estey, a multi-media journalist in Mexico. Makeshift documents and communicates grassroots innovation around the world; our flagship product is a quarterly print and online publication on creative innovation in informal economies that features contributions from 70+ countries. In 2013, Makeshift launched the Makeshift Institute to bring these untold stories of informal makers to classrooms, students, and professors via a custom instructional magazine. The value of these instructional magazines centers on: 1) on-the-ground knowledge, 2) long-term applicability.
Makeshift’s “Appropriate Technology” magazine brings to light on-the-ground information and insights around five pillars: engineering and design, entrepreneurship and trade, spaces of creativity, artistic expression, and community. The stories represented in the magazine answer questions such as: how are products and tools created in informal economies?; how do micro-entrepreneurs, street vendors, and smugglers develop business models and transact without contracts?; how does space influence informal production by providing tools and shared resources?; how does art embody informal creativity in the materials chosen, production and distribution, or meaning of the work?; and, how do relationships and networks influence innovation?
Each custom magazine has long-term value. As a print publication, it is a permanent record of creative innovation and design. Further, the inclusion of thought-provoking discussion questions and activities, key metrics and data, and additional resources allows students to contextualize the stories and understand how to apply lessons-learned both now and in the future.
Makeshift highlights the astonishing methods in which people immediately react to the world around them and bring solutions to their environment. We believe that profiling these constantly shifting paradigms is one of the key means to encourage social design innovation. Our philosophy for creating and designing the custom instructional magazine is centered on the idea that bringing our research to classrooms will expose professors and students to technologies and solutions from unexpected places and cultures. As a result, this knowledge will encourage them to rethink how to incorporate creative design into their own realms. We expect our material to generate projects directly in the classroom that will have social impact now and for years to come.
Our process is founded on co-creation and collaboration. We work directly with our end-reader (the professor and students) to ensure that the themes represented within each instructional magazine are appropriate and relevant to the curriculum for the course. We offer professors a completely unique experience – the ability to completely tailor an instructional magazine from start to finish and at the same time know that the end-product will be professionally-designed and printed.
This was an experiment in educational materials, and the results were surprising and encouraging. According to the instructor, Sarah Rottenberg, “It was a big hit! They really enjoyed the variety of articles, the images and the discussion questions.” All students surveyed said the materials were effective and they will keep the magazine after the class ends. As one student put it, “It provided topics or stories that I would not have encountered on my own.”
Rottenberg was able to design assignments around our supplementary materials, such as discussion questions, further readings, and online materials (e.g. videos). 75 percent of students surveyed said they actively made use of discussion questions and further readings to enhance their learning. One student said, “[The magazine] intensively gathered information of appropriate technology.”
One of the biggest value propositions for Rottenberg was the curation. As a signal of our partnership we co-authored a “Letter from the Editor and Instructor” at the front of the magazine that discussed her design philosophy and encapsulated key themes from her Appropriate Technology course.