Tattoos, Makers and Data Visualisation

Maker Faire tattoosWe approached to MakerFaire with a spirit of enquiry, wanting to gather data about the community of makers attending, asking “What kind of skills do visitors to Maker Faire have?”. The tricky bit was gathering this data in an interesting way. Could we make doing a survey genuinely fun for everyone involved?

We thought we could ask people to create ‘a badge of identity’ as an output to filling in a short questionnaire about their maker skills. We made temporary tattoos, designed by Wes West, so people could brand themselves within three categories – Physical Making, Digital Making and Electronics.  Physical making was represented by a molecule diagram of cellulose, computer making by a binary table and electronics by an electron moving between electrons. Keen participants could indicate their level of mastery with an army-style three bar system.Maker tattoo keyWe applied them to arms, hands, necks, ankles, even a midriff, and you could spy them all over the faire. Indeed, seeing them everywhere brought people to seek out our rather tucked-away stand in one of the corners of the building, and yes, fill out the survey. Their previously invisible skills were now on display for all to see.

Geek CodeThe tattoos were inspired by Geek Code, letters and symbols used by self-described “geeks” to inform fellow geeks about their personality, appearance, interests, skills and opinions. Other geeks can read the geek code and discover what the writer looks like, what interests they have, and so forth. This is deemed to be efficient in a sufficiently geeky manner.

The gold standard for interactive activities at live events is to design something that passers by can see, quickly parse, and get drawn in by. By looking at it, they’ll understand it and want to participate. Simon Katan built us a colourful, gently spinning diagram which highlighted both relative numbers of people ticking different categories, and particularly strong connections between them. It was important that it updated in real time, so each person could see the change they had made to the sum total of the data. By the end of the day the diagram had become gloriously tangled; to see the spinning diagram in action, go here.Caper diagram end of daySo what did we learn?

The top skills at Makerfaire were soldering, closely followed by coding. Circuit design, sewing, and interface design chased each other for third place throughout the day.

Having a write-in ‘other’ field in each of the three categories triggered some really interesting conversations – especially with those who weren’t comfortable calling themselves Makers. So many people said ‘I’m not a maker but…’ ‘I suppose I’ve re-plumbed and rewired my house’, ‘I grind my own telescope lenses’, ‘Does making your own furniture count?’. There’s a divide in people’s minds between making you do because something needs doing, and making for its own sake, as a hobby.

Kids especially loved the tattoos, and choosing them and filling in the survey with parents triggered some interesting inter-generational conversations.

And finally, having the live visualisation made the process of gathering data feel like a two way transaction, not an imposition. Asking people to join in feels quite different from asking people to give something away.stef-and-kids

Photo credits: image 2 by Rain Rabbit, other images by the Caper team.

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