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.

March 2012

We worked with Fuel Theatre for their Phenomenal People project, as part of the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival. Designed and built by Caper, the Tumblr site shares the incredible stories and achievements from political activists to religious figures, astronauts to opera singers, war reporters to nurses.

The Happenstance residencies have been announced. These are:

James Bridle and Nat Buckley at Lighthouse
Kevin Walker and Linda Sandvik at Spike Island in Bristol
Leila Johnston and James Jefferies at Site Gallery in Sheffield

Funded by the NESTA, Arts Council England and the AHRC Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture, Happenstance is a pilot programme created by Caper which puts creative technologists in deep immersion residencies in arts organisations. Residents will be onsite in the three organisations from mid-April for two five-week â˜sprints’, experimenting, prototyping and making projects, and each pair will present their work at the end of each period in informal Open House events.

From our friends…

Produced by Sync, Culture Hack Scotland 2012 is on April 27-28th in Glasgow. There’s a few tickets still available for both digital designers / developers and also arts and cultural organisations, plus some travel bursaries (for those within Scotland) are still up for grabs.

The Hack Track is a 24 hour hack event is for developers and designers to come and work with the data to make innovative new culture-related projects. The newly formed Culture Track is for cultural professionals and includes a Learn How To Code workshop, talks and performances.

And finally, here’s a few things that have caught our eye:

With over 46 million Tumblr blogs globally – which one do you choose to follow? Try 10 art Tumblrs to follow, as recommended by Flavorwire.

Watch Melvyn Bragg exploring culture as a social change maker in his short series for the BBC.

Y Combinator opening up their application process to people with ‘no idea’, challenging the need for a start-up to be focused around singular product – more that smart ideas can be generated by groups of clever people who are really good at what they do.

A pocket sized drawing CNC machine called Piccolo (via


Women in a Room: Field Trip

Recent reports suggest women make up only 12% of the UK design/tech workforce. Are women really not choosing this career path or is it a very interesting time for women who work in digital?

Web Heroines host an evening at the British Library on Weds 18th January 2011 debating the topic, as part of the Emerge Mini-Conference. Speakers include User Interface Design specialist Sarah Parmenter, leading entrpreneur Sarah McVittie, accessible web design advocate Julie Howell and Jess Ratcliffe, founder of GaBoom and of BBC Dragons’ Den fame.

We’re attending on the mini-conference on a Women in a Room field trip. It’s sold out I’m afraid, but, not to worry, you are all welcome to join us at the (free, non-ticketed) social from 8:30pm at the Somers Town Coffee House Pub, located between London St Pancras and Euston at 60 Chalton Street, NW 1 1HS. Let us know you’re coming on our Eventbrite page.