The IBM Make Lab
A huge part of why I’m passionate about design is that I get to use my hands to make things. In an increasingly digital workplace, the practice of working with the physical is more crucial than ever. I created the IBM Make Lab with a fellow coworker in 2014 with the idea to create a space where IBMers can explore, iterate, fail, recharge, and learn together.
The idea for the IBM Make Lab started at a Hack Day, where we were challenged to hack our spaces, our culture, or something else entirely. Reminiscing of our days spent screen printing in design school, a fellow designer, Matthew, and I set about dreaming of a "Murphy Screen Printing Shop" that would fold out of the wall and be ready to print up posters at a moment's notice. During the day, our plan was to not only build out this contraption in our studio, but to use it to print up two awesome posters for our coworkers. All grand ideas, but we accomplished not a single one of them during the Hack Day.
We had such huge technical issues setting up all the complex steps involved in screen printing at the office, that the everyone had gone home by the time we were even ready to start printing. The day itself was a disaster, but that failure challenged us, and we resolved to print our posters over the weekend and to print even more in the future.
That commitment to print physical posters in the studio, through much persistence, slowly turned into a movement of IBMers making in many different mediums, teaching one another, and growing the passion for making outside the walls of design studio.
Two and half years later, we have a permanent maker space in our studio, teach weekly classes, and have printed thousands of posters, totes, t-shirts, 3D models, vinyl cut stickers, and more. We have become a permanent fixture in the studio and shared our passion for making with hundreds of IBMers across many disciplines.
I lead a 7-person design and education team that includes Matthew Paul, Alison Entsminger, Joshua Kramer, Zoe Symon, Zak Crapo, and our advisor, Oen Hammonds.
Our work has been recognized by HOW Magazine, and we’ve been lucky enough to speak about our work at SXSW, The O’Reilly Design Conference, and Mattel.
Below is a small cross section of the hundreds of unique posters, printed material, and more we have created over the last few years.
Selected Work from the Make Lab
Education in the Make Lab
Why Do Spaces Like This Exist?
Spaces like this exist in many workplaces around the world. There's the Facebook Analog Lab, the Google Garage, the Microsoft Garage, the Airbnb Common Studio, the Intercom Brand Studio, the Nike Blue Ribbon Studio, spaces at Hallmark, Accenture, and so many more companies, big and small.
In order to explore this question and to share insights with the broader design community, I organized and facilitated a series of panel discussions to talk about Making in the Workplace along with Tim Belonax of Pinterest, Alexandra Williams of Airbnb, and Ryan Noon of Nike. We took the show on the road, speaking at SXSW, the Mattel Design Center, and the O'Reilly Design Conference.
I can't speak to why each exist, but from working with the folks from the panel above, I can share some common understandings we came to.
- The worker of today expects to bring their whole selves to work. Having space to express and work outside of one's job role, while still at the office, is key to this.
- Spaces like this foster cross-pollination. Whether it's two designers that have never met, or two people from entirely different disciplines/buildings/countries/teams, these spaces provide a reason to meet that's not part of one's 9-5.
- It's important to flex your creative muscles. As jobs become increasingly screen-based, the need to step away and work a different side of your brain and body becomes greater. It can help us combat burn out and give us white space in our day to help us re-focus on the task at hand.
There are three frontiers that we are exploring as a team.
The first, is how to begin to scale the practice of physical making to other IBM Studios around the globe. There are 42 global studios, and they are just as eager to make as we are. How might we help them get the ball rolling? How might we help them develop their own unique culture of making?
The second is how to expand the scope of making to include a variety of other disciplines. While printmaking was a logical starting place for us, designers and non-designers around the company have expressed desire to laser cut, to solder, to woodwork, and more. How might we grow to accommodate more disciplines?
The third is to build out a truly dedicated Make Lab on our campus in Austin. We currently are occupying what was once a Copy Room, so we still have to go elsewhere for a lot of the key steps in our process, like cleaning our screens, which requires a hose connection and a power washer. We hope that by building a dedicated space intended to make, we can do more to grow the practice in Austin and globally, and to widen the practice to include more methods of making. It's an exciting time!