This article discusses the role of a FabLab as a research and making environment within the ‘Bespoke Design’ research project and its implications for the involved designers. ‘Bespoke Design’ deals with the participatory design of self-management tools for and with people with type 1 diabetes. The project furthermore explores the role of a FabLab in developing, sharing and documenting these tools. Although the context of a FabLab as an open and accessible workplace is beneficial for the idea of personal fabrication, we argue that it also poses important challenges.
The necessary skills and expertise for using the different machines in a FabLab form a major challenge related to accessibility and efficiency. After all, a lack of skills and expertise can discourage people to experiment or may lead to time and cost-consuming trial-and-error. Then, if these processes become too costly and time-inefficient, one can question the relevance of developing personalised tools.
However, we believe that including a FabLab in a participatory design approach can deepen the collaboration between the designer and participant, imposing new roles for the designer (i.e. a mediator between the participant and the machinery). Furthermore, designing in this context extends this mediator-role from conceptual design to the actual making of prototypes. Based on our experiences with ‘Bespoke Design’, we elaborate on the challenges when using a FabLab as research environment and the changing role of the designer within participatory design and making projects.
Authors: Dreessen, K., Schoffelen, J., Leen, D., Piqueray, O.