An Idea: Make Works India

If design is “fundamental human activity” (MP Ranjan) and every citizen should be a designer/ maker/ repairer (read more about this idea in another blog post here), then what actually is the role of the designer?

Many of the projects that I’ve found myself doing recently, from designing co-design kits for use by community groups to teaching repair at Skill Share Dundee, actually place the designer in the role of the enabler. Could it be up to us to tell the stories and facilitate the projects needed to get people making?

How Making is Different in India

I’ve written more about this in my previous blog post mentioned above, but making in India is absolutely everywhere. Every single street contains dozens of making and repair shops of all kinds, and almost everything in between has been put together by hand too. I’ve included some examples throughout this article in the form of photographs.

Metal worker working in his workshop on the street in the smaller town of Palitana.


Sahil’s Maker Systems and Make Works

One of the reasons that I was drawn to Ahmedabad, India in the first place was the blog of NID graduate Sahil Thappa. Sahil has researched what he calls the “Maker Systems” of Ahmedabad; documenting how making and repair happens in the city. It was great to meet with Sahil in person when I arrived in Ahmedabad and it wasn’t long before I’d organised a Skype between Sahil and Fi Scott, the founder of Make Works, to talk about the potential for a new idea: Make Works Ahmedabad.

Make Works calls itself “factory finding for designers and makers” but all those who’ve used it know that it’s much more than that. It’s about documenting and sharing the making in a place, and the stories behind the makers. It’s about bringing both making and collaborating away from the global scale and back to the local again.

Students at CEPT try out pottery throwing for the first time.


Initially I’d thought that a directory, as Fi has built in Scotland, would be what to create in Ahmedabad but Fi stressed the importance of totally customising Make Works to the context of each place. The aim of the project would be to document the Maker Culture of Ahmedabad, the outcome could be anything.

These beautiful woodblocks are used for the traditional technique of printing pattern onto fabrics.



We discussed some ideas that Sahil had already researched as part of his work:

  • Maker Trail Maps that take you through the process of making a certain thing within the city, sort of like a treasure hunt. You begin at the market where the materials are sourced and travel around different workshops making and assembling the components. (I wonder now whether trail maps would be simply for people to experience in person or if it could be shared online somehow for people who aren’t in India).
  • Almost crowd sourcing the directory from students at NID who are always going out and discovering factories and makers to help them with projects. (Even better, this could be sourced from the three rickshaw drivers who are always waiting outside NID, and almost act as a human database of where students go to get things done.

Design students at NID building Arduino controlled robots and devices inspired by the idea of a decentralised internet of things.


Markets in India such as the famous Ahmedabad Sunday Market are key places for makers to not only sell their wares but buy materials.



Where it gets really interesting for me is how a Make Works Ahmedabad will also create value for the rest of the world. It would be very hard to get funding to run the project from within India (there’s not really state funding for that kind of thing and corporate sponsorship would possibly skew the project) so our idea was to fund the project from somewhere else, such as a UK funding body. Groups like NESTA and the British Council have been doing research on design and making in India for years; an in-depth and live project such as Make Works would be a fantastic way to share how making happens in India.

My final year project and dissertation were both focused on the benefits of getting ordinary people making and repairing. Learning about how making happens in India would not only help us to shift away from our western model of consumerism, but it has been proven that the resourcefulness inherent in making can help to build communities of people who take better ownership of their lives. If we could share even a fraction of the way people make and do in India we could encourage people here to totally reconsider the things they take for granted.

Looking over the shoulder of a phone repairer in his tiny little booth.


Like This Idea?

Please get in touch if you’re interested in helping make this project happen. You can read about Sahil Thappa’s Maker Systems work here and learn more about Make Works here.

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