Documentation

First introduction

Much of what we design today is mediated through digital processes, from digital tools and software used to construct tangible and virtual artifacts, to online platforms and communities that allow people to share knowledge and designs. Online communities for sharing Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects have been growing in recent years. In these communities the documentation of a project is shared with other users. Shared documentation on online platforms becomes a rich resource for other Makers to use in the creation of their own designs. Fabrication machines such as 3D printers take digital instructions and produce the same material several times. These digital instructions can be easily shared on online platforms and others can then download and even make changes to the original design files for their own needs. These advantages emphasise the importance of documentation. Throughout this module you are going to learn about different documentation sources and how to use them for your own needs and projects. These tools are Thingiverse, Instructables, Make (magazine), Hackaday, and GitHub. Each documentation tool is explained in detail to help users understand the tool. Additionally, types of documentation are explained.

Practical relevance

– This is what you will need the knowledge and skills for

After completion of this module you will have a clear idea about what documentation is in regards to makerspaces, types of documentation that you need to know as a candidate Maker, and different documentation sources used in makerspaces or Fab Labs. You will also learn how to use online documentation websites. Documentation is very important for Maker culture as it promotes the philosophy of sharing with others and reproducing the projects by making changes or without any changes. It saves time and energy, too.

Overview of learning objectives and competences

In this module you are going to learn what documentation is in regards to Maker culture. Additionally, you will learn about different types of documentation. You will learn how to use different documentation sources and websites such as Thingiverse, Instructables, etc. and discover the importance of documentation in Maker culture.

Required skills for this module

Basic computer skills will be enough for this module. Learning to learn, creativity, an interest in design and curiosity are important to complete this training.

What is Documentation?

Sharing information is very important in Maker culture. Makerspace, Hackerspace and Fab Lab communities share their tutorials and documentation of their projects while they are creating their own works

Documentation is based on principles of making, sharing and discovering. Makers share their designs in both online and offline settings so that other Makers can discover and reproduce the project. Documenting the process of making creates a kind of tutorial or instructions on how to produce the project for others to follow.

Design documentation takes on many forms online, from personal blogs to project repositories to online communities and also offline sources such as magazines. Documentation shared through Maker communities is part of developing resources in different fields of the Maker world. Documenting a project usually includes taking photos and writing descriptions of the process. In some cases, video of the project can be also recorded.

The reasons for sharing documentation with the community vary from person to person. Some like receiving feedback about their own projects, some want to showcase their maker ideas and skills, and thus build their online identity, while others have a passion for educating others (Kuznetsov & Paulos, 2010; Rosner & Bean, 2009).

Importance of Documentation

One of the key benefits of sharing documentation is saving time and resources so you won´t need to reinvent the wheel. When the process of fabrication is followed as in the instructions, a perfect product can be produced without any mistakes. Documentation and data repositories support others through tutorials and collaborating on various online platforms establishes peer-production communities.

Types of documentation

A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools. These spaces are open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines. To be considered as a makerspace, this place does not need to have all the machines.

The Maker movement has an open culture in which designs and projects are shared freely online to support other Makers reusing and remixing them. This general spirit of sharing is prevalent in Maker culture, with Makers sharing their creations with one another online through digital design files and written tutorials on sites such as Instructables and Thingiverse. Documentation is usually accompanied by pictures and video. Documentation takes on different forms and we will focus on two main types in this section:

  1. “Recipe-like” or “tutorial-like” Documentation: Is based mostly on step-by-step instructions. There are steps required to recreate a project and these steps are usually in a chronological or logical order. Cooking recipes are a typical example of recipe-like documentation. The Maker needs to replicate the recipe in order to complete the project. There is a list of required tools or documents, etc. at the beginning. Then, it is followed by a step-by-step description of the process. Most popular internet Maker communities, such as Instructables follow this approach.
  2. “Process-like” or “story-like” Documentation: Is based on a narrative and the authors focus on the processes itself more than on how they actually performed each task. The authors include information about the problems faced, how they were solved, different strategies utilised, changes from the original plan, and so on. Some researchers consider this process-oriented documentation more beneficial for the community since it helps learning from others’ mistakes. This method promotes learning from the experience itself rather than just providing a recipe for others to follow.

Documentation sources

Thingiverse

MakerBot’s Thingiverse is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. It is one of the largest 3D printing communities, encouraging people to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience. 

Thingiverse isn’t just made up of designers, engineers, or CAD drawing experts: anyone can learn.

Thingiverse is widely used in the DIY technology and Maker communities and was started in November 2008. The Thingiverse community has uploaded over 1,821,900 3D models, and that number is growing every day.

Thingiverse is a website committed to the sharing of user-created digital design records. It is an open source platform that is essentially free. The shared files are generally for 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines and other DIY technologies that can be used to create physical projects. The necessary files of these projects are shared by users on Thingiverse.
How to use the Thingiverse website?
Image: Thingiverse main page screenshot

The interface of the website is easy to use. You can access from www.thingiverse.com and the following image shows the welcoming page of it. Projects or designs are called a “thing” on the website. 

Image: Profile tab options
  1. Sign Up or Log in: For full access to all features such as commenting on things, uploading or customising your projects, you need to sign up. It is free to sign up and asks for very basic information. If you have already signed up, you can log in to your account by clicking the same tab. After logging in, you can see your designs, messages, collections, and groups. You can also modify your account settings and profile. A new tab will appear when you log in to access your dashboard where you can access your past activities, find friends to follow, and your friends’ activities.
  2. Create: From the create tab users can upload their designs (things) or customise already uploaded designs for their own needs. Customising is the easiest way to take great 3D printable designs and make them your own. Users can get more technical information about how to customise a thing and share it with others.
  3. Education: The education part is very good for educators who are searching for resources to elevate STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Maths) in their classrooms. Educators can access different things by filtering for level of education and lessons. The details of each thing such as images, materials, and documents to download etc. can be found in the details as well as a sample lesson plan shared by the owner of the thing.
    Image: Thingiverse, Education tab screenshot
  4. Explore: Users can explore things, designers, groups and customizable things from this tab. While users access the things, they can also search for designers to follow by filtering according to number of followers, designs or things. Users can also be a member of different groups on the website to socialise or work on the same project.
  5. Search: A useful search tab is located on the top-middle of the website so that users can search the things they are looking for by writing keywords.
  6. Things: A list of things can be accessed from the main page. They can be filtered according to the newest, most makes (the number of designs from other members by using the original file) or most popular at certain times. Additionally, they can be sorted according to themes such as hobby, gadget, toys, etc. Advanced filtering options help users to find requested things with a couple of clicks.

Closer look at a thing:
To get the details about a design, you simply click on a thing and you will see a similar page to the example seen on the image below.

Image: Surgical Mask Strap Remix

Users see several pictures of the design in already prepared versions and digital images. Pictures and other design documents can be downloaded to the computer from the Download All Files tab. Users can also add the thing to their account for further use by clicking Collect Thing, as well as liking and commenting on the design. If a user produces a project by using the thing, they can also share an image of it. Remixes of the design (different versions of the original design) can be shared with the community. Users can make donations for the content creators by using the Tip Designer tab. When users scroll down the page, they will get more information about the thing. See image below.

Image: Surgical Mask Strap Remix

All information about the design, any updates, bug fixes, print settings, and other relevant information are shared by the content creator in the Thing Details part. The thing file can be found and downloaded from the Thing Files part. Other users can see and read Comments on the design and from the Makes part, designs of other users made from the original document can be found. From the Remixes part, users can see different variations of the original design created by others. The Apps part shows which apps were used during the design of the thing.

Summary

Thingiverse is one of the biggest 3D printing repository sites where a lot of files can be found and used with different 3D printing technologies. In order to access the features of this database, you need to create an account – everything is free. You will then be able to save your 3D files, organise your designs, add favourites and download the models you want to make. On each 3D file, you can find photos of the final product, printing tips (extrusion temperature used, plate, printing speed, etc.), and the model of the 3D printer used: everything has been thought of to make things easier for the community.

Instructables

Instructables is a platform for you to share what you make through words, photos, video and files. From a one-step recipe to a 100-step jet engine build, everyone has something to share.

Instructables is a website specialising in user-created and uploaded do-it-yourself projects, currently owned by Autodesk. It was created by Eric Wilhelm and Saul Griffith and launched in August 2005.

Instructables is dedicated to step-by-step collaboration among members to build a variety of projects. Users post instructions to their projects, usually accompanied by visual aids, and then interact through comment sections below each instructable step as well as in topic forums. 

The site allows uploading of photos, diagrams, video and animation to help explain complex terminology and mechanisms in clear and understandable terms.

Instructables employs a full-time staff, and also has a volunteer group, who feature well-documented articles, welcome new users, and help out around the site.

How to use the Instructables website?

Users can access from www.instructables.com and the following image shows the welcoming page of the website.

Image: Instructables main page screenshot

For full access to sources and to share their own content, users need to be signed up to the website. The interface of the website is user friendly.

  1. Image: User area screenshot
    User’s Area: Website users can access and edit profile information from this part. Additionally, there is a shortcut to access adding a new Instructable.
  2. Community: This part is an online discussion and interaction forum page where users can ask questions or answer other users questions.
    Image: Instructables Community Page Screenshot
  3. Classes: This part has several lesson plans about various areas from 3D to Cooking. Users can enrol in the classes for the lessons they are interested in. The classes part is a very rich educational resource for all users offering detailed lesson plans with visuals and/or video links. Users can download the lesson plans and also ask questions of the author or other users. Users can publish their own instructable from the Publish part. Authors can use the Instructables Editor and publish their project. There is a tutorial available on how to use the Editor here.
    Instructables are divided into six main themes and these are: Circuits, Workshops, Craft, Cooking, Living and Outside. Projects are shared under these themes and users can access designs from here too. In the Teachers part, educators can access various resources grouped by the level of students and by subject.
    Image: Instructables Classes Page Screenshot
  4. All projects can be accessed from the Projects tab. The Instructables website regularly organises several contests, each with a unique theme. Up to now, they have run 965 contests with 15,832 winners. Users can enter or see the results of contests from the Contests tab.
  5. Users can access featured projects in different areas from the Explore Projects part by scrolling down the main page.
    Image: Instructables teachers main page screenshot