Leanne Fischler is a young emergent designer who completed a one month internship at MAKLab in August 2015 in between her third and fourth year studying product design at DJCAD. More recently, she has returned to MAKLab to run a bookbinding workshop and we took the opportunity to catch up with her progress. We asked Leanne to write a guest blog to share her experience as an intern at MAKLab and how it has impacted her practice.

In the summer of 2015, I had the chance to do an internship with the Glasgow makerspace MAKLab. This blog post has been put together in response to their invitation to reflect on what I’ve achieved in the year and a half since then and what I’ve learned from it. 

De/Reconstruct at MAKLab

During my internship, I set myself a project: to organise and run my own workshop and talk event on sustainable design called “De/Reconstruct”. You can read more about the event here.
The workshop involved participants getting their hands dirty taking apart discarded consumer goods and reflecting on the process. Something that really struck me was how effective the ‘hands-on’ approach was in conveying an issue (in this occurrence, understanding what is wrong with our current manufacture and waste systems). Rather than being told about the problems, participants could experience them for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Charity work with Skill Share Dundee

When I returned to Dundee I began to notice further the impact of working with our hands. I was in involved in the running of a charity called Skill Share Dundee, where we taught traditional and useful skills to the community with a focus on craft and self sufficiency. Through constantly building things, often from re-used materials, participants were taught to see everything around them as repairable or as something that could be turned into something new.

MAKLab champion what they call “the social impact of making”, speaking at events around the country about how making “empowers people”. While I was at MAKLab, I didn’t totally understand this. It wasn't until I started to make links between MAKLab and Skill Share that I gradually discovered what they meant: the process of making forms individuals who feel they can fix things, take concepts through to completion and, eventually, feel empowered to change the world around them.

Dissertation on supporting making in Dundee

I decided to write my final year dissertation on how we can support the making culture in Dundee. I began by explaining the value of working with our hands, illustrating it with examples from both MAKLab and Skill Share Dundee. I then proposed what I called “The Dundee Maker Network”. This network would connect and strengthen the ecosystem of maker-spaces across the city by encouraging a variety of differentiated spaces.

BBC Bitesize

In January 2016 I was asked to present a series of films for BBC Bitesize website to teach school students about the design process. This gave me a great opportunity to show the creation of a piece of design and, hopefully, to inspire some young makers with my work.

You can find the videos here, if you’re interested!

You can find the videos here, if you’re interested!

Final Year Project

For my final year project at university, I once again chose to focus on making. I designed a kit in which participants had to “scavenge” parts from the “waste” around them to build their own mobile phone charger powered by a hand-cranked motor. The aim of the kit was to inspire participants to think about what we take for granted as consumers.
If you want to learn more about Waste Makers you can read about it on my blog.
As well as earning me a first degree, this project was also selected by The Common Weal for their Glasgow exhibition What Is It Now? in May 2016.

Sailing to Scandinavia

After my honours project and graduating I needed a break! I sailed to Sweden and back onboard a traditional sailing ship from Shetland as a working crew member… (This is a list of my achievements after all!).

Thanks to Oliver Beardon for the lovely photograph!

Thanks to Oliver Beardon for the lovely photograph!

Volunteering as a boat builder at GalGael

Following my sailing experience, I decided to volunteer at GalGael in Glasgow. GalGael are a community-run wood workshop and boat builders yard, which takes on individuals from backgrounds of long term unemployment and addiction and teaches them carpentry skills to show them what they can achieve. Before I came to GalGael, I had not understood even a fraction of the potential social benefit of hand craft. To see people’s lives being turned around because they realised that they could give something back to society (regardless of whether it was through the skills they had learned or simply their determination to learn) was truly inspiring.
While I’ve been at GalGael, I’ve been refurbishing a wooden boat in the boat building section. I’ve never actually spent such a long time doing “pure” craft every day and I’ve found that working with my hands actually helps me to process my ideas better.

Designing Bookbinding Kits

Alongside my work at GalGael, I’ve been developing a bookbinding kit for a friend’s company, the Vintage Paper Co.. We hope to sell the kit as an all inclusive set (tools, materials, instructions and templates) that allows people to get crafting straight away without having to source anything.

At this point, it feels like I've come full circle again. Just recently, I got the opportunity to work with MAKLab to put on an 'Introduction to Bookbinding' workshop! It was lovely to work with the team once again in designing an event, bringing all my new ideas and experience into it as well. The workshop was a great success with all the places selling out and each participant leaving with their own personalised handmade notebook.

Future Plans

I've made the decision to work as a freelance designer for the next few months - and the future is feeling full of exciting possibilities.
In recent weeks, I've been travelling up to Orkney to set up an exhibition of my work at the Pier Arts Centre which has given me a new context within which to present my work (in Orkney the focus seems to tend more towards fine art than product design) and the opportunity to run some workshops and a talk on design and making.
My next plans are for a trip to Gujarat in India to research reuse and making culture in a completely different context. I aim to learn from people who actually have less access to resources by viewing how they make and repair to solve real problems.
Finally there’s the prospect of working with V&A Dundee on a new project they will be launching in May. The project aims to show groups across Scotland the power of design and the circular economy. Stay tuned for more on this one later!

And that’s it! Thanks to MAKLab for asking me to write this piece and for being such an inspiration in the first place. I look forward to many more collaborations in the future!