By Nina Arens

Designing a booth for Maker Faire may seem like an intimidating project. Festivals like these attract a broad demographic, a lot of questions, and all sorts of people with different interests and objectives. Combine it with the fact that visitors hardly ever linger at an exhibit longer than 8 minutes, and it may feel downright impossible.

But don’t fret! You are a Maker! You CAN make a fun, interactive exhibit!

Whether you’re a multimedia artist, a laboratory scientist, a basement tinkerer, or a vendor, every made object can have an interactive element. It may not seem apparent right away, but no matter how complex, all ideas are a built on simple foundations.

Design Take-Home Projects from Complex Ideas

Imagining just how a visitor could take home a piece of your display can be difficult. Especially if your project is a long process. Or requires special tools. Or an attention span.  Here are some ideas to help you do it with a little creativity.

Protein Chains with beads and pipe-cleaners


Protein Chains with beads and pipecleaners

Protein Chains with beads and pipecleaners

I wanted to convey how a cell makes its proteins to 4th grade girls at Bailey-Gatzert Elementary. Obviously, I couldn’t bring them to my lab, or have them visualize something. And certainly they wouldn’t sit still for a lecture. Instead, I adapted a beading activity to simulate the biological process in similar ways. At my booth, girls worked to thread and fold “pipe-cleaner proteins” using the letters in their names as a recipe.

It was an adaptable project that was personable, quick, and had multiple points for entry. The girls had a blast! They built a pipe-cleaner protein for me that I still own.

Give kids a printout to take home.


Workshop: build 3D molecules and take home the printout

Workshop: build 3D molecules and take home the printout

Another great example I’ve seen is a virtual chemistry activity in Scotland during Edinburgh’s 2011 Science Festival.

Unable to bring visitors directly into their organic lab, they simulated building a molecule.

At their station, kids could digitally built a 3D ball-and-stick molecule, print it, and then view it through 3D glasses. Very cool!

I printed a sodium acetate for myself.

Perfect Science vs. Imperfect Science

This is a cut-away view of a conveyer belt displayed in CosmoCaixa in Barcelona, Spain. I saw four excited ten-year-olds watch this thing for 20 minutes. There’s a reason why most science center elevators and escalators are see-through: people like to see how things work.

All too often, society honors our finished projects: proven mechanics, completed artworks, definite histories. As much as we could wish it–in the heat of a frustrating project–to just BE, a made project never merely appears. Bring your unfinished stuff! Bring the broken things! Celebrate Making in all its glory–including the “almosts” and the “crap.”

Tools and Materials


Board Game made from recycled materials

Board Game made from recycled materials

Maker Faire isn’t only about creations: it’s about tools, too. Another way you can allow people to tinker and play with your creation is to allow them the same opportunity you have. Let them work with your materials! Let them try with the same tools! You can share practical insights about your craft while marveling at the creations your own public will create. Trust me: they’ll surprise you…

This is an installment at CosmoCaixa in the same exhibit about Recycling, which went into great, dynamic detail about how we can reuse our materials. In a small corner of the exhibit, I found this: a boardgame made out of recycled materials, made by a visitor. My friend and I both agreed: we definitely would have played it.

Let’s not forget the little ones…

Maker Faires are for everyone–including families. And often where there are families, there are small children. And when one has small children, they usually also have SMALLER children. Don’t forget that children (elementary and younger) are Makers, too. Everyone starts from somewhere. You might as well give them the chance.


Wood blocks simulate Civil Engeering

Wood blocks simulate Civil Engeering

This is a series of pictures from an “I Love Hamburg” exhibition I saw in 2010 in Gothenburg, Sweden. It toured on a train, and had several cars, and in one car, it asked people to “Envision a City of the Future.” It gave everyone blocks to write their hopes and designs for a new city on (“More bikes, less cars”; “Gardens on the Roofs!; “Soda Water Fountains!”), and asked them to ‘create’ and ‘stack’ buildings from their dreams.
Wood blocks simulate civil engineeringThough it was for all ages–what a marvelous way to engage children with basic civil engineering!

If you’re not sure about how you’re going to create a booth for Maker Faire, don’t fret. There are many possibilities out there. And if you’re local, you know your community best. You’ll see. By the time you’re done, you’ll find the next best thing being a Maker, is teaching others how they can be Makers, too.


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