ISSUE 01 | PHOTO STORY

Building a Maker Database

As a product design graduate, Fi Duffy-Scott set off on an adventure. She toured Scotland’s industrial estates to uncover the hidden manufacturing skills on art and design graduates’ doorsteps. At the end of her expedition, she set up an online database to encourage creatives and creators to get together.

By Veronica Simpson | Photography by Ross Fraser McLean

A Maker Database

In 2010, Fi Duffy-Scott was part-way through a product design degree at Glasgow School of Art.

She loved it, but felt troubled by the absence of hands-on making. So she decamped to Philadelphia and Brooklyn, and spent a year learning on the job from the cities’ product and furniture designers. This stint was so compelling that, rather than touting her portfolio around the design agencies back home, Duffy-Scott set off to find out what was being made locally and who was making it.

With a borrowed video camera and camper van, she embarked on an odyssey around the small manufacturers of the Scottish mainland and islands. She unearthed everything from steelmakers, glass lamp blowers and couture knitting factories to high-end upholsterers. With the help of her friends Kirsti Vana (filming) and Ross Fraser McLean (photography), as well as some Create Scotland and Jerwood funding, the team amassed 120 interviews. They then launched a website to hook up budding designers and makers with the businesses that could produce their ideas: https://make.works

Duffy-Scott’s engaging manner and passion for keeping craft and manufacturing skills alive infect all those who meet her – including the talent scouts at Google. In 2015, they enrolled her on their “Seedcamp Accelerator’” programme, based at Google Campus in London. But the classic start-up model of profit-driven business was not for her. It was hands-on engagement she wanted, not shareholder negotiations. Now make.works is run as a non-profit, with Duffy-Scott at the helm.

But in a world dominated by IKEA flat-packs, how do you promote local and hand-made designs? Thanks to her networking talent – and her Google training – Duffy-Scott has persuaded makers and manufacturers in other regions to create their own local directories. They pay for make.works’ sophisticated software and databases, as well as training and network support. Birmingham joined in 2015. The University of East Anglia’s version goes live by the end of this year, along with Bath & Bristol and Devon & Cornwall. A pan-Swedish sign-up is pending.

Every new region brings its own strengths and ideas, she says: “Birmingham are doing brilliant masterclasses, where artists can go to a manufacturer and learn different skills and Birmingham has lots of metalworking, whereas Scotland has lots of textiles. There’s been a real exchange.” In Scotland, Duffy-Scott has initiated a small residency programme, placing artists and designers in factories to see what they can learn from each other.

Now, make.works also offers a plug-in for Google Chrome browsers. It tracks users of the IKEA website and promotes so-called ‘redistributed manufacturing’. As users browse IKEA.com, various characteristics about a product are extracted from the page – material, colour and type of product. The plug-in uses this information to make requests to other channels for alternative ways of manufacturing it, like ‘use a local maker’.

So instead of products being manufactured centrally and shipped around the world, digital product blueprints can be ‘shipped’ or shared online, and physical things are produced locally.

Duffy-Scott embarked on this whole mission because she wanted to develop her own craft skills. But now she gets a kick out of keeping the joy of small-scale making alive for the design world.

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