Having a child to build things for is the maker’s dream, and the maker’s curse. I had a son seven months ago. It is every
bit as wonderful, and every bit as exhausting, as
everyone will tell you. As a hacker, a maker, and a
builder, I find that it’s definitely a humbling
experience. This is, quite literally, my life’s work —
in the strict biological sense.
It’s also humbling because he is so much cooler
than anything else I’ll ever make (or half make).
So far he’s done little more than transform from a
strictly input/output device to an interactive robot;
all the same, watching his operating system boot up
makes any code I’ve ever written look trivial.
In observing his every movement, I can only be
jealous of the evolutionary mechanism design-and-optimization that is his every muscle, digit, earlobe,
and nostril. Because this is the pinnacle of my
making, I’m rattled, but I’m also inspired, because
he just set the bar so much higher.
If you suffer from inventor-itis, as I do, the first
thing you notice about the baby world is that
everything is broken. All the products on the shelf
are pathetic. They’re toxic and poorly made. The
bed options are hopeless. Those clumsy, bulky,
awkward, ugly things called strollers are terrible. Car
safety seats? I wouldn’t trust them to a high-school
egg-drop competition. Enter the maker mother and
father: time to get a fixin’ on it.
But there’s a downside. Time vanishes when you
have a kid. Those moments of peace, contemplation, and low-level hand-eye tasks you used to have
alone at the workbench? Obliterated. There is now
a screaming, giggling attention magnet that’s the
cutest thing in the world. You haven’t slept in weeks.
Hacksawing with the kid in the sling on my chest?
I don’t think so (or at least my wife has trained me
not to think so!). Actually getting things built on
time? That’s a whole other story. My wife axed my
goal of building the ultimate stroller, when the baby
arrived and there was still no stroller. (Perhaps
for the next kid, I wistfully think.) And my folding
origami toy box concept will likely remain a dream.
So far I’ve managed to build a co-sleeper (a mini
bed that attaches to our bed) with the help of a
friend. Most are hideous and cheaply made — there
16 Make: Volume 20
BY SAUL GRIFFITH
was one in a design magazine somewhere that we
liked, but it was only a concept! So I made it real,
a bamboo and aluminum masterpiece.
Our cargo tricycle wasn’t designed with an infant
sunshade, so my father and I fixed it. My wife supplied beautiful Marimekko fabric so the outcome
wouldn’t be embarrassing at the new mothers’
group, and the result is a magnificent, aerodynamic
sunshade made by two engineers with PhDs.
I find myself working on children’s toys out of
compulsion. I have redefined the pinnacle of invention as “the next Lego.” It’s crazy and arrogant to
believe that you could do it, but that won’t stop me
from trying. I’m sure you know what I mean. I want
my child to have amazing experiences, to grow up
in a world of objects that are beautifully designed
and thoughtfully made. Toys that are significant
and memorable, not disposable.
Perhaps that’s the hidden desire I’m talking about.
It’s not that my own childhood wasn’t magical (it
was; my father used the best tools of his day to
make me ride-on wooden horses, pedal-powered
cars, and knitted 8-foot-high unicorns).
My love, and passion, and exuberance, and
creative desire are overflowing, and every sheet of
plywood or steel that I look at is some incredible
object that I can make for him. Inflatable safety
barriers for car seats? Easy. I’ll do it for him. Custom
stuffed-animal-creation software? I’ll do it for him.
An algorithm-based paper airplane generator?
I’ll code it for him.
And that baby stroller? It was going to be made
from aircraft-grade aluminum poles, cast-zinc
universal connection pieces so it could be recon-figurable, and Abec 11 bearings with large-diameter
rollerblade wheels (for low rolling resistance). It
would fold into something smaller than a Swiss
Army knife yet be sturdy as a tank.
All the drawings are still in my head. But the baby
needs feeding, my wife needs a break, I need some
sleep, and the stroller needs one of you non-parent
makers to make it for us. Unfortunately, until you have
a child, you probably won’t quite understand why.
Saul Griffith is a new father and an entrepreneur.