How to get to make: Five tips from Charlotte Burgess-Auburn

A new bumper sticker. Really, we're having them made. (Charlotte Burgess-Auburn) When it comes to solving problems, we usually default to crafting e-mails over crafting clay models. We choose which meetings to blow off rather than blowing glass. We manipulate spreadsheets but never foam-core. Often, many of us avoid getting our hands dirty, which can make rapid prototyping feel like a hurdle too high to leap.

But the courage to quickly go from idea to object is a powerful asset. How might we be flexible about the way we express ideas? How, essentially, do we get them out of our heads and into the world?

The fellows are in the middle of testing prototypes in the field, which has forced me to confront my own fear of making. I promised myself when I arrived at the d.school that I would be elbow-deep in cardboard, construction paper, hot glue and metal. I'd turn myself into a handsaw-wielding, rapid-prototype master who, when asked for a Phillips-head screwdriver, would pull one from my pocket. 

But I have yet to become that person, because I am deeply afraid to make. Keenly aware of the untrained eye's ability to judge an object's aesthetic qualities, I've shied away from getting my own hands as dirty as I could.

I recently sat down with the d.school's Director of Community, Charlotte Burgess-Auburn, a self-described maker at heart. Charlotte was the first full-time hire at the d.school, and rarely will you see her not making something. If there is a tool she hasn't used, she's always ready and eager snatch the opportunity to learn.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn is the director of community at the d.school.

"I'm a tinkerer," she says simply. But what her tinkering brings to the d.school is much bigger than that.

When she was growing up, Charlotte was surrounded by people who worked with their hands. Her path to making comes from production work, specifically the theater and events planning, more so than from traditional craftwork.

"My way in is the bias to action," she says, "the show's-going-to-go-up-we-have-to-have-something-on-stage side of it." A skilled seamstress, Charlotte believes that you don't have to come from a particular background or even a few backgrounds to identify as a maker.

You see, maker is not a badge or a certification, she says -- it's a mindset.

As soon as that phrase -- "maker is a mindset" -- came up in our conversation, Charlotte turned to her laptop to capture it on a bumper sticker. We spent the next 10 minutes discussing which font would work best. The latest version is atop this piece.

Now, here are five tips from Charlotte on adopting a maker mindset:

1. Lower your standards.

This is far easier said than done. Most of us were taught that, after a certain age, it's no longer okay to color outside the lines, or for our spaghetti models to not quite line up. We learn to feel that if we can't do something well (to say nothing of perfection), that we shouldn't do it at all. But if you lower your standards for making, you can ease your path to learning and increase your opportunities for discovery.

2. Move towards the things you don't know how to do.

Excuses are among the easiest things to make. We're often encouraged as adults to shy away from learning outside of formal education. But you don't have to be an art major to buy fun stuff. If there's something at your local arts and crafts store that you've always wanted to play with, go get it! Seriously, we'll wait.

3. Be curious. Really, it's okay.

Asking "why" and "how" when you encounter new experiences can be the current you need to chart a new course. If you're always curious about the next step, you'll keep moving forward.

4. Learn the difference between critique and criticism.

Don't wait for someone to weigh in on your idea before you begin to make it. "Testing will do the critiquing for you," says Charlotte. I've seen this firsthand as she's changed the space at the d.school, adding and subtracting furniture and lighting over the course of the  year. Charlotte's constantly changing things and watching how people react, and she openly seeks and responds to feedback.

When it comes to critiquing or being critiqued, focus on the method rather than the output. That way, Charlotte says, you advance learning and encourage the development of transferrable skills.

5. Look for the opportunities.

People are always looking for excuses to acquire something; instead, set up your own excuse to make. You want a new cellphone case? Why not make one? "It's fine to call it a hobby," Charlotte offers, "whatever you need to tell yourself to get you to do it."

BONUS! - Be cheesy.

"Cheese allows people to pretend they are just there to have fun," Charlotte says. "Allow it to be playful, so you don't psych yourself out."

So have fun making! And let us know if you want a bumper sticker, or go ahead and make your own.