Day in the Lab

XX.1 January + February 2013
Page: 84
Digital Citation


Eric Wilhelm

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How do you describe your lab to visitors? The Instructables lab is an open-plan, multipurpose workspace located in downtown San Francisco. We have exposed brick walls, wood floors, gorgeous natural light from skylights and windows overlooking Second Street, and a ridiculous number of tiny halogen lights in the ceiling, holdovers from our lab's previous life as a salon. (We removed the hair-washing stations but kept the shower for those who ride their bikes.) Everyone at Instructables builds things, so we have a shop with a laser cutter, 3-D printers, and woodworking tools; a full test kitchen; a crafting center with several different sewing machines and a CNC embroidery machine; and an electronics and soldering lab. At the center of our space is a large, metal-topped table that is alternately our lunch table and a spillover work area for projects too big to be contained in our other areas.


What is a unique feature of your lab? The lab is covered in projects! Some are useful (treadmill desks, adjustable skateboard shelves, coffee tables), and some are just fun (robots, Muppet character hoodies, giant Lite-Brite). Exposed brick and natural light are nice, but the real heart and soul of the lab is the creativity of the people who work here.

How many people are in the lab, and what is the mix of backgrounds and roles? An average day will see approximately 22 people in the lab, a mix of Web developers, visual designers, community managers, editors, at least one artist-in-residence, and interns during the summer. Our team comes from an eclectic range of backgrounds, including engineering, Web development, biotech, physics, architecture, ski patrol, fashion design, teaching kids, costume design, and rafting guide.

Briefly describe a day in the life of your lab? People trickle in, depending on their commute, and usually start the day checking their email. Then the dev team settles in for some serious coding, while the editorial and community management teams talk to authors, work on in-house projects, and take care of any maintenance and admin tasks across the site. We usually gather for an informal lunch around the big table, then get back to work individually or in groups as needed. On the last Friday of the month, we all close our computers, turn up the music, and work on our individual DIY projects for Build Day. The only requirement is that we post the finished project on Instructables!


What is one feature of your lab you could not do without? The people in it. We've been in four different locations over the lifetime of Instructables, and a great group of motivated, creative people will bring even a boring space to life. Now we're lucky enough to have a great lab space and amazing people!

What is one feature of your lab you want and do not have? We always want more tools and project space! That means more tools in a bigger workshop, a larger sewing area, a snazzier test kitchen, and enough worktables that we don't have to clear off projects to eat lunch or check email.

How would you describe how people interact in your lab? Our open-plan office encourages fluid interaction, cross-pollination, and serendipity. While we make heavy use of email, we also do lots of in-person check-ins, both formal and informal. Projects spark lots of ideas and skill sharing, especially when laid out across the center of the room. People will reorganize the desks and workspace as needed, or build (and document!) something custom. The couches are a popular place to relax and talk shop over video games; headphones are the universal signal for "I'm working hard—please don't disturb."

What is the one thing you see as most important about the work you do there? Maintaining our authenticity is incredibly important. At Instructables we help people share what they make, so it's important that we don't lose that passion and creativity. That's what Build Day is all about: being a contributing member of the hands-on, project-focused Instructables community. It helps keep us focused on what really matters.

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