Fixperts: Fixing is a way of Thinking

Craft & Design Education
Daniel Charney and James Carrigan, founders of Fixperts
Daniel Charny and James Carrigan, founders of Fixperts
Daniel Charny and James Carrigan, founders of Fixperts

At the root of making is fixing. Identifying a problem, a need, or something that could be done better, and then making something to fix it. Sometimes the problem is, this robot needs more lasers, or, cupcakes would be way more fun if you could actually sit inside them and drive around. But often it’s just something that doesn’t work quite right for you or someone around you.

James Carrigan and Daniel Charny are behind a new project called Fixperts, that aims to connect up fixers, filmmakers and people with a problem to solve.

Fixperts projects are made up of an unusual 3-part team. A designer or maker, called a Fixpert, who can apply imagination and skill to solving a problem through fixing. Someone with a fixing challenge; a problem to solve, called a Fixpartner. And a filmmaker, (or a Fixfilm-maker) who can tell the story of the collaboration to share the fix more widely.

The idea grew out of a short film James made as he tried to fix the wheelchair of a local girl, Foridha, documenting the process, the failures along the way, and the eventual outcome.

Solving problems

While solving other people’s problems is routine in the design world, it’s more common for makers to work on personal projects. Shifting the focus to solving someone else’s problem can give maker projects a whole new impetus, says James:

“People sometimes find it challenging to fix their own stuff, or don’t have the desire to even identify problems they live with; they tend to ignore them. But when you fix something for someone else, you have a really strong motivation, and that forms a really key ingredient to Fixperts. By working with somebody, and solving a problem with them and for them, you have a really strong reason to do something.”

And once you’ve started, the dynamic can be very different from that of a solo maker project:

“It’s another option to exercise your imagination and your skills in a social context. People listen and they have ideas. People enjoy getting feedback from another person. The high you get from solving someone else’s problem is amazing; it goes two ways,” says Daniel.

“I’ve done 2 Fixperts projects myself, and the experience has a lasting impact on how I think about what I do as a designer; how I approach problems. Because in my mind’s eye, I constantly see that this is for somebody,” adds James.

Sharing the story

Communities like MAKE and Instructables thrive on the desire of makers to document our projects. But even for those of us who enjoy this part of the process, it’s rare to bring someone in right from the start to capture a project on film. But the filmmaker is an integral part of the Fixpert team, says James:

“The fixpert is an important part of the project, the fixpartner is a critical part of the project; those two are really important. But the communicator — it’s another layer of skill and imagination that’s required to really tell these stories. And it becomes a very rewarding outcome for everybody involved. If we did fixperts without the films, it would be missing a lot of potential.

“By capturing the collaboration, the social connection and engagement, the iteration of the problem, you end up creating something that’s shareable, that becomes a valuable resource for others.”

How things are made

Daniel and James are interested in the ways that students are taught about the design process, about re-linking design with problem solving, but also about the way we all perceive makers and the manufactured things around us.

Daniel says, “It’s also about the role of makers in our society. The industrial revolution has given us amazing things, but has also distanced people from the knowledge of how things are made. This is a way of reminding people that humanity has this resource of making, and that making comes with a knowledge of social awareness and materials.

“We know that when we see something that is broken, we know that many people leave it alone, or live with it, or maybe one step up, buy a new one. We know that’s not the only option, possibly not the best option.”

From fixing, to making, to doing

The impact could be broader even than the world of manufactured objects.

“Watching a single film isn’t going to change what people do or how they think, but it’s a seed. The more they’re exposed to making or fixing or process, and understanding failure as a stage in that process, it helps them do almost anything,” says James.

“Fixing — making — is a way of thinking. It informs an attitude. When you watch these films there’s a lot of positive energy; they’re really empowering to do, and hopefully they can trigger all kinds of things, not just participation in Fixperts.”

Daniel adds, “If you wanted to go for one word, the real thing that we’re trying to fix is people’s agency. You see this transition at Maker Faires: from people who are observing, to taking part, and then actually taking ownership over a project. You also see this in design education. There’s this magical point where people stop being students and start being designers or makers. Or when you see a designer solving a problem in a way that hasn’t happened before, or a maker taking on a technique and pushing it; doing things you hadn’t expected — there’s a sense of agency.

“And this agency leads to contributions, to new knowledge and independence. These are characteristics that we’re interested in. Seeing people access a new skill, seeing them get better at it, get experience, and engage in a way that they hadn’t expected. They gain confidence through it, and then they take on something bigger.

“Fixperts is a point of access — an easy way to engage with a social project. A lot of people are interested in being part of a social contribution, but they don’t know how. This is a relatively easy way to try. It’s not a life commitment, it’s a small project.”

Becoming a fixpert

If you’re interested in starting your own Fixpert project, it’s very easy: just go to the website, check out some of the films, form a team, and get started!

Andrew Sleigh is a fixer, maker, tinkerer, bodger and thinker from Brighton, UK.

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