As told to Kasey Woo
Adam Hutz, a recent Ph.D. recipient from UC Berkeley’s Rhetoric Department, first learned of the CITRIS Invention Lab through a Critical Making course taught by Eric Paulos, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the Invention Lab’s faculty director. Hutz learned of the course from the Berkeley Center for New Media, where he studied the interconnection between rhetoric and new media as part of BCNM’s designated emphasis program. He talks here about his experiences in the lab, becoming a lab superuser, and the close-knit community there.
“I understood that I had entered into a space where almost anything you could conceive of — any material object that you can conceive of in your head — could be prototyped at least at a low fidelity. I saw 3D printing, I saw laser cutting, and I didn’t have a full idea of what was possible, but I knew that there were enormous possibilities and I wanted to figure out what those were. We had three Afinia printers at the time — basically a hot glue gun on a gantry–extruding small amounts of plastic. The very idea that you could design something in software and then have it appear before your eyes in a matter of hours was just inspiring and moving to me, especially as I was thinking about what and how we conceptualize the virtual space in the modern era for my dissertation.
“I wouldn’t be able to overstate how important the mentorship of Chris Myers and Eric Paulos were to me. When I was first discovering making, Eric taught me that not all designs are market-focused. We can also think about making through a critical lens, and also consider what kinds of designs would be disruptive or challenging to the users who interpret them. Chris has such an encyclopedic understanding of design and what’s possible with materials. As you’re building something, his guidance means that out of ten paths, where nine will lead you down the wrong road, he can point you towards that one that’s going to be most productive.
“What all superusers have in common is that they don’t just get an assignment and think of the fastest or most efficient way to do a good job at it. Superusers think about what they want to do, realize that they don’t know how to use the machine that is the answer to the problem that they’re trying to solve, and then instead of finding another way to do it, they learn that machine. One by one, students who become superusers, you see them start to learn all the machines in the lab just because they have new ambitions and new kinds of projects that they want to embark upon. So the transition from user to superuser really looks like a process of a person spending a lot of time in the lab and just becoming inspired to learn every machine and every process that they can think of or that they see in the wild.
“Superusers want to try lots of new things and make a lot of mistakes. Superusers make a lot of mistakes and fail a lot along the way. But in that process, they’re also learning an enormous amount that they can share with other users. And the other thing that superusers have in common is that they’re all very friendly and willing to share their mistakes and learnings and knowledge with other members of the community.”
Photo Credit: Kuan-Ju Wu and Adriel Olmos
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
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