In 2005 Dale Dougherty founded Make: Magazine, inviting people to bring a hacker’s sense of exploration to DIY culture. Make and the subsequent Maker Faire ushered in a new era of hands-on experimentation with technology, old-fashioned craftsmanship, and encouragement to learn how things work.
Since then the term “maker” — coined by Dale in that first issue — has become synonymous with anyone that partakes in such physical exploration and creation in whatever capacity they choose. In talking with Fast Company, Dougherty explained that “maker” is an intentionally broad word: “It was just a fairly neutral term that could mean lots of things. I still like it for that purpose.” For some that might mean whittling a spoon; for others being a maker might mean creating a fully ambulatory robot. There’s no barrier to entry nor limitation to what makers can do, as evident in the dozens of Maker Faires popping up around the world.
As the movement grows, so has Dougherty’s responsibilities as Executive Chairman of Maker Media. We spoke with Dale to learn a little about how he works — and if he still has time to be a maker himself.
Current Gig: Founder and Executive Chairman at Maker Media as well as Chairman of Maker Education Initiative.
Those are titles I have. What I am doing a lot is travelling around the country and the world visiting Maker Faires, meeting with makers, talking about making and its role in our culture, and advocating that making be available in schools and libraries to reach all children.
One word that best describes how you work: Improvisation.
Current mobile device: Nexus 6
Current computer: MacBook Pro
What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?
I really want to answer that I can live without almost all of it, except email and calendar. In truth, I do so many things through a web browser or app that I used to do without them, that it’s just become part of daily life. So all of this has changed in the last ten or 20 years but it now seems normal. If I can’t get power to recharge my phone, I’m disoriented.
I should mention is that I have a weather station in my yard. Its data goes up to the web and I can check on what the conditions are at home, even when I’m not there. I particularly like to see how much precious rain we get during a storm.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I move from place to place. I don’t seem to settle in one place so my backpack is my workspace, and I just got a new one that I like how it helps organise things for me.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I’m more selective. It’s driven by the realisation that I can’t get to everything that comes at me, that I can’t do everything I’d like to do, or everything that people ask me to do. I can’t get to all my emails and respond promptly, even though I’d like to do that. I will miss things. I can’t keep up with all the news, all the social media, but somehow that’s ok. I try to do as much as I can but I can’t do everything. I try not to beat myself up over what I cannot do.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
A piece of scrap paper. I keep the lists in my head but if I find myself getting overwhelmed, I’ll just write down what I know. I’m not sure I even keep the list-on-paper around very long afterwards
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
I really like cameras. I have a Sony RX-100 III and a Fujifilm X100S. While I will shoot some photos with my Nexus 6 phone, I find it much easier to use a camera and that a camera is physically designed for my hand and what I am doing. It’s quicker, too. Walking around Maker Faire, I take a lot of photos and I’ll use the Sony camera for that. The Fujifilm X100S is a rangefinder style of camera, kind of old school, and I use that when I travel and I’m walking around a city. That camera looks like a film camera and people will come up and ask about it.
Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what’s next?
I tend to have many things going on at the same time, and I jump from one project to the next. I get something started and let it incubate a bit until I have time to finish it. Through reading and travel, and meeting people, I gain new experiences that sort of percolate in my mind and I try to find time to identify a pattern or story line that makes some sense of it all.
Regarding the maker movement, did you have any idea when you started Make in 2005 that there would be such a widespread desire to explore DIY culture?
I knew that DIY already existed but it wasn’t recognised and it wasn’t really celebrated. There have always been makers but consumer culture isn’t about making — it celebrates shopping. I think we’ve managed to get more people to see themselves as makers, combining creative thinking and technical skills on projects that you care about, provides real, personal satisfaction and it helps connect us to communities. It’s about valuing play in addition to work.
What is most surprising to me is the response from children. They really get what it means to be a maker, and they want to develop the skills and mindset to become makers. We have a real obligation to help support them in our communities. That’s why I’d like to see makerspaces in schools and libraries, in inner city schools as well as suburban ones.
You’re undoubtedly very busy these days. Do you still find the time to get away from emails and get your hands dirty making stuff? Making wine, I hear?
This fall, I did produce about five gallons of hard cider, starting with our own apples, putting them through a wooden cider press, and then fermenting the juice. We’ll have it to drink at Thanksgiving. I did work a few weekend days during harvest at our winery, DRNK Wines, but really all the work is done by my son-in-law, Ryan Kunde. I’m also working on this year’s hot sauce, made from Fresno chiles and Habanero peppers that I’ve grown. It’s ageing in a small oak barrel on the kitchen counter. I like fermentations.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I don’t know if I’m better than everyone but I’m good at remembering names. I think it’s important to remember people and their names. The only secret I have to share is that I make sure that I really do hear clearly the person’s name and then repeat it back to them. I find it’s necessary to stop and do that if you really want to remember the person’s name a year later. It surprises people that you remember their name and who they are.
What do you listen to while you work?
I don’t listen to music much at all while I work. I find it to be distracting.
What are you currently reading?
I’m on the third volume of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, a Norwegian writer’s exhausting but fascinating account of his life. I’m also reading Bill Bryson’s At Home, which is a history of the way homes were organised.
How do you recharge?
I love a day without much to do at home. I love to read, check on the garden, go for a long walk with my wife and cook dinner for us or a feast for our extended family. I have to say that being surrounded by a loving family is my greatest joy, and getting them together for a big dinner is wonderful. I have a 18-month-old grandson, Henry, and being around him renews and recharges me.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I am more of a night owl than an early riser. I usually get a good night’s sleep, however. I find I can adjust pretty well when I travel to different time zones, losing sleep on one end and gaining it back on the other.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _____ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Choose to do what demands the most and the best of you. If it was easy, it would have been done already.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
We celebrated ten years of Maker Faire this year. I’m proud that Maker Faire has been going for so long and it’s still strong. We have over 150 Maker Faires around the world this year and that’s growing the maker movement in different countries and different cultures. Make Magazine is in its eleventh year and still a vital magazine in print for makers, just as cooking magazines are for cooks. I’m happy to have worked with so many good people inside our company and out in the community to create and support all of this. As a result, the maker movement is making a difference but there so much more we can do together.
We’ve asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.