I made this Atlas of Makers because I want to understand why people make things. My assumption is that if I understand the different reasons it’s easier to find the right tone of voice when I want to teach them something. In this chapter I think it makes some sense to make a distinction between people who make things for others and people who make things for themselves. But it’s not really possible to fit people into these exact boxes. For instance, some people have a personal obsession with a certain subject, but at the same time they want to share the beauty of this obsession with others. So, even when it’s not binary at all I decided to order this chapter about reasons why people make things in my Atlas of Makers by people who make things for others, and people who make things for themselves.
When people work for others they have different goals. The results here a probably a bit biased: I talked to quite some teachers, and quite some designers who work at the same agency.
The reason why Dave works in his sound studio is to enable his students to express themselves. Joost has a real interest in the well being of his students. It’s a pleasure to watch him when he coaches them, or when he talks to them. Here things get fuzzy. Joost and Irene, both teachers, also mentioned that one aspect of teaching they really like is the fact that they learn so much from it themselves.
Quality of life
The designers I spoke to have a real urge to uncomplicate things. Willemijn thinks that many things are unnecessarily complex. She wants to solve this. Marie found out that the combination of image and language is an excellent way to do this. Marrije tries to make things less complicated by approaching things with an open, curious mindset, the so called beginner’s mind. And Robert Jan points out that it’s all about the human scale, a scale which is often forgotten or seen as to too small by people with a larger ego. Astrid only makes things that improve the quality of life. Often this means that the thing she made will be neglected.
Share the beauty
But Astrid also has an obsession with making. She loves making so much that she wants the whole world to make as well. Arnold is a bit less ambitious. It’s not necessary that the whole world enjoys the old manuscripts he researches. But it’s a wonderful thing that more people can access them via his publications. For Harold an essential part of making music is sharing. Sharing his early ideas with his fellow musicians so he can use their insights. And sharing them with the world.
Of the people I spoke to there are not many who solely work for themselves. But many do have an intrinsic drive to make stuff.
I like it
As far as I can tell the people I spoke to all like the things they make. But there are some for whom this is the sole reason. Like Joke. She really makes the things she makes just for herself. Out of curiosity. She really doesn’t care what others think about it. For Diek this is similar. But he does discuss his concepts. It’s not so much that he cares about what others think, it’s more to test his ideas, to see if they are solid. Kiki makes things because she likes making things. Things don’t have to be complicated. For Harold making music also has to do with vanity, with his ego. But it is more than just that. Titus makes things because he wants them to exist. And Maarten makes the things he makes because he loves making incredible stuff. When Stefanos is on a summer holiday in Greece he cooks the most delicious meals for himself. He loves good food.
But in Amsterdam Stefanos runs a small Greek Restaurant. He runs this not so much out of his love for food, but simply to pay the bills.
Many people like the fact that they keep on learning. Maarten loves the crazy props and decors he builds, but the thing he loves most about it is that he keeps on learning, he keeps getting better. Just like Irene and Joost. Both teachers, they have this thing with knowledge.
An obsession maybe sounds a bit negative. If we call it a drive, or an urge it sound more positive. Arnold is obsessed with his research. He’s been doing it forever, and since he retired he works even harder. Astrid turned her obsession for making into an association that has the goal to
let the whole world tinker.
Conclusions and questions
I think this chapter does show that there is no clear distinction between making things for yourself or for others. It’s a gradient. And some people fit very well in both camps.
One of the questions I have is wether people who earn their living with making stuff would keep on making things when they retire. I think most of them will, but I didn’t ask, so I don’t know.
The people I spoke to are mostly fortunate as well. They do something they love, and many of them do something that has a positive effect on the world — at least, that’s what they hope. I should talk to more people who work in other industries, like entertainment, or advertising or extreme things like arms manufacturing.
I should also try to find out how they learn. What makes their curiosity tick, and what turns them off?