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No fear, Fixperts are here!

Name

Daniel Charny

Idea

'Fixperts', a social project and open knowledge sharing platform which encourages using the power of fixing to solve everyday problems.

The idea behind Fixperts is to connect designers with people who could do with a little help in their lives, from people with disabilities to the elderly. The project links ‘Fixpert’ designers to ‘Fixpartners’, with the aim of developing a quick, low-cost solution. The process is filmed and uploaded to fixperts.org, as a tool to inspire others.

Co-founder Daniel Charny is an independent curator, co-founder of creative projects consultancy ‘From Now On’ and Professor of Design at Kingston University following 14 years of teaching at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art and other institutions internationally. We spoke to Daniel about how Fixperts has evolved into an inspiring project with an international reach, the challenges facing Fixperts, and how you, too, can get involved in the social platform that is helping others through design.

Fixperts co-founder Daniel Charny. Photo Credit: V&A

Fixpert James with his Fixpartner John celebrating a successful fix. From Fixfilm Stone Hair Salon

How did the idea for Fixperts come about?

I curated an exhibition called Power Of Making at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London that was all about the relationship between imagination and skill. My agenda was to get people to remember that most of us can 'make' and that it's a very valuable way of thinking, innovating and solving problems.

Co-founder, James Carrigan, also co-founded a company called Sugru which produces a self-setting rubber material which is used for 'fixing'. He showed me a film that he made that is now part of the Fixperts films, where he fixed a wheelchair joy stick for someone using Sugru. When I saw it we looked at it in terms of design with communication and found that there is massive potential to inspire people to fix and make through films.

We got a group together consisting of an amazing design tutor called Rebecca Davies, some graduates, and an organisation that works with people with multiple sclerosis called Shift.ms. We made five films for the pilot and launched it together with the Royal Society of the Arts in the UK who gave us a platform on which to launch. The media rush really overwhelmed us so we decided it was worth setting it up.

You've mentioned there have been a lot of people helping out, but how is it funded?

Whenever we needed funding it was provided by James and I, and still continues to be. We are a voluntary organisation and right now have about seven volunteers. We are at a point where we need to figure out how to be sustainable. It's actually a very pivotal point we're speaking at. We have had projects in nine countries and receive lovely emails from people wanting to get involved from all over the world - but even just responding and coordinating is difficult. We need a stronger platform to connect with people, so right now we're looking at what kind of structure we need to keep it going.

What has been your favourite Fixperts story?

Oh that's a difficult one! One favourite is one called ‘Fixpests’ made by third year communication design students who helped a lady called Edna who was having a hard time putting her socks on. The students made something they call the ‘sock horn’ for her. It was really about fixing a situation rather than fixing an object, and that's one of the things we really love about the format.

The project is happening in so many countries and each person takes it their own way, we're not protecting it, we want to be copied. We don't claim any idea, it's the opposite - we'd like people to share the experience, the knowledge through whatever format.

Co-founder James Carrigan using Sugru to fix a wheelchair joystick. From Fixfilm Foridha’s Chair

Fixpert Florie observing Fixpartner Denise who suffers from MS try out a prototype to help her put her earring in. From Fixfilm The Little Things.

It sounds like a user-centered design approach is very important in the process. How does someone who needs something fixed ('Fixpartner') find someone who may be able to help them ('Fixpert')? Can you tell me a bit about that process and how they work together?

So you need three partners to make a fix film: someone who opens up their life and has an issue or a problem; a designer or maker who observes and responds to that, and a film maker who captures the process to make a film. The film is the product as far as we're concerned, not the actual fix, because what we want to do is inspire people to make and fix, and the films are the material that we do it with.

It’s particularly user-centered but the user is a partner, not a subject, because they have insight, they have knowledge, they have feedback. It's a very valuable process. A lot of designers today sit behind screens and never know or meet people who benefit from their work, they just get data.

In terms of connecting people so far we've been using social media to do this. In Glasgow we have a lady who wanted help with a reading situation for her daughter who has limited movement. A designer in Glasgow picked it up and now they're looking for a film maker.

We've had some ideas on how to help connections happen between organisations and local designers. One route has been to work with charities and NGOs, and we've been talking to a group of social workers and occupational therapists who can assist in identifying people who might need help. We come from a design territory so it's easier for us to find designers and makers, so we tend to be looking for people we can help instead.

Do you think fixing things has become a largely obsolete activity for this generation?

Yes definitely, I think industrial production has created a large distance between us and the fabrication of things. The mindset towards something that is broken is to leave it or buy a new one. We would like to remind people that there is another option.

There are obvious benefits for individuals within the community.

It's surprising because usually the designers or makers are the happiest out of the equation, because they get to contribute to someone else's life through their skill and imagination. For them, it's about using their skills in a social way. Yes it's about fixing, but also it's about how designers and makers are perceived in their community.

Is there an ethical and wider reaching aim of Fixperts? As you say, we're living in a throwaway culture of convenience and that's strongly influenced by consumerism and the excessive production of short-lived items. Is Fixperts challenging throwaway culture and overconsumption?

There's a massive value to independent thinking, and this is not accepting things as they are - broken. The Power of Making was the V&A's most popular free exhibition ever - 320,000 people came to see it which was overwhelming for us. Making is very much alive and kicking, people forget it is such a critical path of innovation. It's creative, it's empowering and it's useful. This is the real aim of Fixperts.

TOP: Prototype made using a 3D printer to test a bottle opener that allows a user with one arm to open a bottle with one hand. From Fixfilm Bottle Opener, BOTTOM: Fixperts at work helping the Woodstock community, Cape Town. From Fixfilm ThingKing

TOP: Daniel with design students from Brunel University. Photo: Fixperts, MIDDLE: Fixperts at work helping the Woodstock community, Cape Town. From Fixfilm ThingKing, BOTTOM: From the Fixfilm The Windy Window

You get involved with educational institutions, is that the future platform for Fixperts?

We're interested in the crossover between design and communication in design education, we think this is an opportunity to do the two together and rethink how things are taught. We're interested in including fixing in high schools as a parallel with technology. In the UK at least, art and technology are taught separately, and this would bring them together. Where do children learn about their social responsibility or being part of a community? Not through technology, so the two should be connected.

What does the future hold for Fixperts and what are some of the challenges you can expect?

One challenge would be reaching the people who can benefit. And right now, we don't have offline presence. If every market had a Fixpert stall and local makers could connect together (laughs)...you know, we're thinking along a lot of lines. It kind of depends who joins the team. That's how it's been working so far.

I guess it's been quite an organic evolution.

(Laughs) Yes, that would be the understatement. We couldn’t have planned it. Within one year to have someone in the suburbs of Taiwan that runs a takeaway restaurant to use the word Fixperts...that's something that would have been hard to plan, but it's happened. It's amazing that someone in Taiwan, Shanghai, Canada, Warsaw have used the word Fixperts and got something they didn't expect - help from designers without asking for it. The one thing we know is - when there's local champions then things happen.

Interviewed by
Todd Harrison

Photography by
Fixperts and V&A

Fixperts
Fixperts Intro Film
The Little Things Film
Fixpests Film
The Windy Window Film