Can Technology Save Us? Ask Bethany Koby

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Can Technology Save Us? Ask Bethany Koby


Koby will be speaking at MakerCon. Buy your ticket today!
Koby will be speaking at MakerCon, May 12-13. Buy your ticket today!

MakerCon speaker Bethany Koby, an artist, designer and graduate of NYU’s ITP, is an American who is CEO of a kit development company located in the bustling Hackney neighborhood of London. Her Hackney neighbors include Alice Taylor whose Makie Labs allows kids to design and create their own 3D printed toy characters as well as Jane ni Dhulchaointigh whose company Sugru makes the next best thing since Duct Tape. All of them are part of a British invasion for Maker Faire.

One might think that Bethany and her co-founder and partner, Daniel Hirschmann, had a lot more on their mind when they named the company “Technology Will Save Us.” The story is that the founders once came upon a laptop that had been discarded in a trash bin near where they were working in Hackney. “We thought it was crazy that someone would throw a working piece of technology away,” Bethany wrote to me. “It really highlighted the role that technology has in our everyday lives and our relationship with it. We don’t really understand it, yet it’s there in our everyday life. Both myself and Daniel were also teaching at the time and were really keenly aware of how long it takes for educators to be able to catch up with the reality of technology in every day life.”


The insight that Bethany and Daniel had was that kids should have DIY kits to build gadgets themselves so “Technology Will Save Us” is a “DIY Gadget” company. Instead of starting with the product itself, Bethany relied on her background in product design to workshop the development of kits, bringing in teens and talking to them about what they wanted to make. The resulting kits have reflected the interests and abilities of teens in areas such as gaming, cycling, and music. In a Guardian podcast, Bethany said that the goal of their collection of kits was to “inspire people to move from zero to Maker.” The kits have a simple, authentic design with friendly documentation. DIY Gamer Kit was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in a collection called “Humble Masterpieces.”

DIY Synth kit

The way Bethany came at product development is different from most Makers I’ve encountered. As I see it, most Makers come up with a product and then try to find out if there’s an audience for it. Bethany thought about the audience first and then developed a unique process to create products for kids and families. From the beginning, she was thinking beyond creating a single product or kit. At MakerCon, I expect that Bethany will share her experiences in creating a new product development process.

Bethany believes that kids today “have very little opportunity to look under the hood, make, or explore tech in more creative or productive ways. We want to change that and empower a generation of families to be creative and playful with tech through gadgets and not just screens.”

She believes that her team has got “closer to understanding the needs of parents, and that giving them the power, the knowledge, and the kit to be able to do it themselves, at home around the kitchen table was much more powerful.”

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty