An interview on Making with

Coby Unger

Maker / Designer, and Prakti Design Lab

About Coby

Coby Unger is a maker of things and a connoisseur of high fives. His background is in woodworking, product design and mess making. He studied Industrial Design at Philadelphia University and spent seven months as a resident artist at Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop. Coby prides himself on being a professional amateur, and dabbles in many fields. In his design practice he likes to supplement his more serous work with playful and humorous projects. His recent endeavors include participatory youth-lead design-build projects, assistive technology, and low cost prosthetic devices, as well as playful public furniture, a remote control shark fin and a toilet-top garden. Currently he is living in Pondicherry India and working for Prakti Design Lab designing efficient biomass stoves and accessories for cooking (and actively looking for an appropriate venue to make something funny again.)

What is Making?

Making can take a myriad of forms, but at in every instance there is a focus on the creation of a physical object. Even as our human species trends towards a more digital existence, creation of tangible artifacts will never cease to be crucially important. Making is an exploration in manipulating our physical surroundings for the betterment of our selves and our communities, but also, more simply, for the sake of Making itself. Many other species (mostly insects and birds) have are capable of Making, but it is our exceptional mastery of this ability that has set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. 

Who are Makers?

A Maker is anyone for whom the physical creation of an object is a primary part of his or her regular practice. In some cases this is in the context of a job or business, but often Making is a hobby or passion. While the term ‘crafts person’ implies expertise in a specific field, this is not a necessary characteristic of a Maker. Rather, many who consider themselves Makers tinker and dabble in many fields and experiment in a variety of medium. This is not to say that crafts people and artists are not also Makers, or that makers cannot be experts. The term Maker is encompasses a wide variety of people from the young LEGO architect and papier-mâché sculptor to the lifelong woodworker and tailor. 

Why is Making important?

First and foremost Making is important as a way to enhance our understanding of materials and to connect with our physical world. Through this embodied knowledge of our material surroundings and the experimentation inherent in Making, new concepts take can form. Making has the potential to solve problems in ways that conventional ways of thinking may disregard or ignore. One of the most important lessons in that can be learned though Making is the power of the mistake. It is often preached, but rarely practiced that we learn more though our mistakes than our successes. The act of Making, especially by an armature, gives license for mistakes and thus for yet more creative thought. 

What is an exciting example of Making and why?

Making is most exciting when it can be shared freely and concepts can be built upon through variation and/or collaboration. The Liter of Light project is a great example of this type of project. In many urban slums and underserved communities around the world, homes are not well lit even during the day. Liter of Light is a way to use common materials including metal roofing and a plastic bottle to create a simple skylight for the home. The concept has been shared freely online, but more importantly it has spread and evolved by word of mouth through communities all over the globe.  

How is Making transforming education?

Intelligence takes many forms, but far too often evaluation in schools does not recognize this diversity. In a largely standardized educational system, countless young people who learn more easily through manipulating tools than through quiet and obedient listening may be not be recognized for their brilliance. The incorporation of hands-on making in classrooms has the ability to highlight the incredible potential of those students who may otherwise be ignored. Making is not an ideal way of learning for everyone, but neither is reading or taking a test. 

How can Making change my community?

Making is both contagious and empowering. The physicality of Making means that its effects are inherently visible to others. Especially when the Makers are young people and the project is large, Making tends to get noticed (see the work of Public Workshop). Seeing one person create something great inspires others to do the same, to make the change they want to see into a reality. 

How does Making solve big problems?

Our society’s problems will not be solved by the same type of thinking that created them. Making, due to its experimental nature often starts small, solving problems for just a few people. Through a diverse and global network of makers, solutions to problems can be shared, improved and expanded to cover a larger and larger portion of the population.