By Anne-Laure Fayard (NYU Tandon School of Engineering)

CAIRN: A Tangible Research Tool To Materially Visualize Practices in a Makerspace from Madeleine Nicolas on Vimeo.

3rd International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces

CAIRN: A tangible design research tool to visualize interactions in a maker space

For the last 2 years, I’ve been doing a qualitative study of the MakerSpace at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Working with some master students, we collected observations and interviews. These data are a key component of our research (with Victoria Bill, the MakerSpace Manager) on interactions and collaboration in the space. They had also been crucial in informing the programming and rearrangement of the space with the intent to build a community of prototypers, makers and innovators.

While our qualitative data combined with quantitative data we collected (survey, information on the number of visitors and basic demographics, e.g.) we still had a lot of questions on the type of activities taking place in the space, their location and how much collaboration took place. Inspired by research design, we started exploring creative ways to develop research tools and found Cairn, a tangible apparatus created by Pauline Gourlet and Thierry Dassé to study a Paris-based Fab Lab. We found it very relevant to our approach and our needs. We had the chance to meet Pauline Gourlet while she was in New York and discussed with her how we could adapt Cairn to our context – an academic maker space with a different population and our ongoing research with different questions. The conversation was super useful and stimulating and Pauline, in line with the Open Source philosophy offered her to reuse and adapt their files (In fact, the files for the original Cairn are open source). While we ended up creating our own design, having access to the files were really useful.

After a lot of brainstorming and some iterative prototyping, we built our CAIRN NYU and installed it in April 2018 in the space. We did an intense data collection for about 3 weeks and since then we have been monitoring the use. We learnt quite a few things in particular about how much collaboration and learning and sharing were taking place. We also realized that one of the main strengths of CAIRN was to trigger reflection on practices and start conversations. This fall we are planning to explore further this insight by creating a series of rapid prototypes to generation engagement and reflection about making practices.

To learn more about CAIRN, watch this video created by Maddie Nicolas, a Computer Science and Engineering student at NYU Tandon. The video was submitted and presented (along with our research paper) at the International Symposium on Academic MakerSpace this summer at Stanford.

About our team: I have had the pleasure to work on this project with Victoria Bill (Manager of the NYU Tandon MakerSpace), Srishti Kush, a Master Student in Integrated Digital Media at NYU Tandon and Maddie Nicolas, a Computer Science and Engineering Undergraduate Student at NYU Tandon.