The Maker generation, hacking and why user documentation suddenly becomes important

One of the emerging trends in the 2010-2020 decade is the emergence of the ‘Maker Generation’. According to The Economist:

The maker movement is both a response to and an outgrowth of digital culture, made possible by the convergence of several trends. New tools and electronic components let people integrate the physical and digital worlds simply and cheaply. Online services and design software make it easy to develop and share digital blueprints. And many people who spend all day manipulating bits on computer screens are rediscovering the pleasure of making physical objects and interacting with other enthusiasts in person, rather than online. Currently the preserve of hobbyists, the maker movement’s impact may be felt much farther afield.”

One could argue that this is the obverse side to the “It just works” closed ecosystem philosophy of Apple. In the world of making, hacking and bodging things together, people will want the ability to ‘open the box’ and  adapt products for their own use.

According to Nokia’s Sondre Ager-Wick, large corporations will embrace this trend:

Take Microsoft. Within weeks of launching Kinect, someone had hacked it and there was open source code on the Internet. Instead of freaking out, they decided to run with it and create a software development kit. It’s thinking like this that will make personalization and co-creation a key driver for how brands and companies create closer relationships with their customers.

To be able to make, hack and adapt products, people need information on how and what to do. This information will come in part from puzzling things out for themselves and sharing knowledge with others, but a key part will also come from product information – the reference and user guides.

Again, from The Economist:

The parallel with the hobbyist computer movement of the 1970s is striking. In both cases enthusiastic tinkerers, many on America’s West Coast, began playing with new technologies that had huge potential to disrupt business and society

As in the early days of personal computing, the user documentation become very important. If this can be integrated with the community-based support forums, we might see new approaches to User Assistance that could ripple back into more traditional technology products.

See also: Big DIY: The Year the Maker Movement Broke


Bill Kerschbaum

Ellis, thanks for posting this. I’m currently working on a project that is being spawned to the maker community. The company that developed the technology for a client is now in the process of making it available for makers. Tech comm is at the center of this process – I’m documenting the technology and creating the wiki. It’s a fun project.

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