IN THEIR STUDIO: TECHNOLOGY WILL SAVE USOctober 28, 2015
On a blustery and damp October morning, we headed to Hackney for a tour of the bright and colourful Technology Will Save Us studio. From the DIY gamer kit that combines retro gaming and the ability to hack your own games, to the DIY synth kit which allows you to create your own electronic music, we wanted to settle down and get stuck in right then and there. We chatted with founders, Bethany Koby and Daniel Hirschmann about their humble beginnings packing kits around a kitchen table to their now international operation shipping kits to over 70 countries. Whatever you do, make sure you own it. From making mistakes and learning from them to customising, hacking, modifying and programming something completely amazing. Get creative and go for it!
UO: Tell us a little about the story of Technology Will Save Us
My background is in design, branding, and innovation, and my co-founder’s background is in physical computing – engineering and computing for creative outputs. We felt that there was a need to make technology more accessible. To take it off of its pedestal and make it approachable to the people who use it every day. Up until now, it’s really been off-limits to most people and really only accessible by engineers and stereotypically ‘techy’ people. We wanted to create a brand and products that invited people into the world of technology and helped them to feel empowered to make and creative
When we started Tech Will Save Us we were both teaching, and we realised that education was not moving at a fast enough pace to keep up with technology. We thought there was a better way. That was the impetus to say, “Okay, can we start a business that teaches people to understand technology, and make things with it rather than just being consumers of it.”
UO: Where did your interest in technology stem from? Is it a family trait or all your own?
I was always creative. My mother was a toy designer turned Montessori teacher and my dad was a photographer so making and creating were in my blood. Making was a part of everyday life – whether it was cooking, painting, pottery or more complex projects like model airplanes, redecorating my room (which I did often) or planting a vegetable garden – I was never not making something or a few things at once. Playing around with technology was a natural progression for me.
UO: How do you aim to make technology accessible for all?
We put design and our users needs, desires and lives at the centre of our development process. Our business is a design-led learning business. We think a lot about our customer and ways to make everything as fun, challenging and accessible to many different age groups and abilities. As such, we create products directly with our customers to see how they enjoy using them. We’re also about to introduce some new resources that goes further to support our inventors throughout their making process.
UO: We love the DIY Gamer Kit – can you tell us more about the process of developing this? From initial idea to finished product?
Our product development process is really user-centred. We do big research projects to find out what people are already excited about, what they’re interested in learning. Then we use that research to come up with some themes, and those themes become the beginning of a kit development process. One of those themes was gaming. The interesting thing about starting with research is not just asking what people want, but understanding why they’re excited about that area. In the end the interest wasn’t just about playing games: It was about the ability to make them, and hack them, and modify, and change them — and that was the piece of insight that was so exciting to us. I think that impact is the same, whether it’s a programmer or gamer making your first game—unleashing a passion, a creative outlet, that’s a really satisfying experience.
Shop: DIY Gamer Kit
UO: How do you think technology lessons at school should be improved?
There are three areas we’d love to see evolve within schools:
1. Relevant, real world ways to see technology in your life / world to solve problems and have fun with
2. Digital making with your hands, not just screen based activities that unleash creativity and opportunities for lots of different kinds of people to see technology as something they can do
3. Ownership. When people make something and its theirs, this becomes an artefact of their learning and a demonstration of the things they achieved. This is important and has lasting effects on their confidence.
UO: Where do you seek inspiration?
I look for inspiration in the everyday. Using everyday life as inspiration, our kits tap into the hobbies and passions that we love – music, gardening, cycling and gaming. Users inspire the work I do. Young people and the adults that love and support them give me inspiration and insight around new themes, skills and possibilities I could have never have imagined. Or team also inspires my work. We have an incredibly talented, passionate and dynamic group that continually invent and create experiences to delight and surprise me always!
I am also a big contemporary art fan. I am an avid visitor of galleries, museums and biennale’s globally. The world of art and design are inherently optimistic and push the boundaries of what is possible in the world by experimenting and exploring topics, materials and new approaches.
UO: What’s the most important message you want to leave your customers with?
Making with technology is not scary, and you, yes you, can do it! It will unleash something in you, you might not expect…
Shop: DIY Synth Kit
UO: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since founding Technology Will Save Us and how did you overcome it?
We started Tech Will Save Us in my house, around the kitchen table packing up orders. We’ve now grown to over 20 people in our studio and mini-factory in Hackney. Growth is always challenging, and things become more complex. My biggest focus is on our team and making sure we work with an awesome, enthusiastic skilled team as this will be what allows us to overcome any hurdle.
UO: What do you predict will be the next emerging trend in hardware and technology over the next couple of years?
More making! The tech maker movement is GROWING, and the tools available are getting better and more accessible.
Shop: DIY Thirsty Plant Kit
UO: What’s next for Technology Will Save Us?
The future is very bright for Tech Will Save Us. We are going through a really exciting phase at the moment, growing our team and getting geared up for the holiday season. Success for us is empowering young people and parents to get hands on with technology – we measure this by the growing number of young digital makers in the world. Every time we hear from customers about working with their tools, customising, hacking, modifying their kits, programming something that makes their lives better, or making mistakes and growing from them – we know we’re achieving something special. One of the big things we want to measure over time is around young people making more informed choices in school and choosing technology related subjects. If they have had good experiences making and have built confidence being creative with technology, we hope this will help them and their parents choose subjects around tech not because they think they should, but because they want to.
The person I most admire is… My mom, she inspires me as she (and my dad) have always loved the work they do and have created a life of creativity, passion and lifelong learning.
My greatest achievement is… My son and my company
My favourite piece of DIY kit has to be… My micro:bit bracelet
The best thing about my job is… Working with and meeting people who share passions and a drive to make a difference
I couldn’t live without… Yoga, Saturday babychinos with my son, my adoring and selfless husband, manicures, great friends and family.