The maker movement is quickly becoming a defining force in all aspects of society. More than just “crafting,” the maker movement integrates concepts from science, technology, engineering, art, and math (so-called “STEAM”), developing and experimenting with new ideas to create new and exciting products. Making, in this sense, is more than simply combining elements to create something new. It often encompasses elements of design thinking and experimentation, all with the notion of creating something new.

One of the most important elements of the maker movement is the actual makerspace. While a makerspace can be as simple as a classroom shelf with a variety of materials for students to experiment with, there’s a growing trend toward developing larger, more advanced spaces for advanced makers. Whether they are interested in robotics or clothing design, a well-designed makerspace can help bring new ideas to life, and support the spirit of creation and entrepreneurship.

Designing a Makerspace

Depending on your needs, a makerspace can be a single corner of a room to a large, shared space where multiple people can work together. In fact, a new type of business is popping up around the country, in which creators purchase a subscription to the makerspace and gain access not only to a place to work, but in most cases, the tools they need to work. For many individuals, investing in tools and equipment that can make their jobs easier isn’t always practical. For instance, a laser cutter machine has many applications for makers, but may be too large or expensive for home use. By joining a makerspace that offers the use of the machine, one can perfect their craft without the upfront investment, in a controlled and safe environment with the help of other experienced makers.

Regardless of the type of space, there are some points that any space designer needs to consider when setting up the space. These include:

Layout. Will design and fabrication take place in the same area? Will there be classes in the space? How will you contain noise? One of the most important aspects of designing a makerspace is to design in such a way that creators can work efficiently. While separating design/classroom space can help keep noise manageable, it can also make the experimentation process cumbersome. You need to think about your layout in terms of maximizing efficiency and creating as mobile a space as possible.

Clean vs. Dirty. Some equipment creates a great deal of debris and dust (such as saws and drills) that can actually harm other types of machines, including laser and vinyl cutters or 3-D printers. The space needs to be designed to take this into consideration, and provide adequate separation between dirty and clean machines.

Power. Different machines have different power requirements, and it’s important to ensure that not only are they connected properly, but that the space itself is wired for all the equipment.

Equipment. Speaking of equipment, one of the most important considerations will be the type of equipment offered in the space. Again, makers are likely to be looking for access to tools and equipment that they might not otherwise be able to afford or have space for, so consider including 3-D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, woodworking tools, sewing and cooking equipment, and robotics stations. Outside of the educational market, makers are expected to supply their own materials (i.e., fabric for sewing or vinyl for cutting) but use of the machines is a benefit of being part of a makerspace.

Safety. Safety is a key aspect of a makerspace. Not only must you provide the right safety tools and equipment to users, but it’s important to arrange the space so that equipment can be used properly and safety. For example, when selecting furniture for the space, install benches, tables, and desks that can handle the weight of expensive machinery while still providing the proper clearances. Follow all local fire codes and other regulations as appropriate.

A well-designed and equipped makerspace can make a significant difference to someone who has a great idea, but doesn’t have the tools or the space to bring it to life. However, even if you aren’t going to create a space on a large scale, you can still develop one in a classroom or an unused corner in your home. The same principles apply, but the end result is a space where you and others might just create the “next big thing.”