May 20, 2012

A Robot Made This! – a product prototype for Maya

UPDATE: Maya wore her necklace to school!  According to her mom, the other girls in her class were excited to hear about the jewelry-making robot.  She looks like a rock star.

I’ve been making stuff for a long time, and trying to master the art of telling stories with them.  This is the first time I’ve taken up the task of telling THIS story – the story of how technology can serve women just as readily as men.  It’s a vitally important story to tell, and a complicated story to convey to an adult.  To see that it’s stuck with Maya and her friends, at least for now, is so incredibly satisfying.

If you work in a creative field and have any kind of entrepreneurial streak, you know how tantalizing a new idea can be when you’re working on a big project – and how easily it can turn into a huge distraction. Two weeks ago, I had a good idea, but because I’ll never get anything done if I drop my other work for it, I’ve decided to go ahead and cut it off at the prototype phase and post it here.

The idea all started with Maya, the daughter of my good friend Andrea.

She’s in kindergarten, and is as clever and adventurous a child as you’ve ever seen. She loves dancing and princesses and rainbows and anything that is pink.

Maya has also always, always loved cars and robots, right along with those butterflies and flowers and hearts. But recently she’s been saying that she doesn’t like these things anymore.

“I don’t like cars,” she told me, “because I want people to like me.”

This breaks my heart. And I imagine it breaks your heart, too. Five years old, and she’s already figured out just exactly how this thing works.

Funnily enough, I use laser cutting to do some really girly stuff. I make jewelry, handbags, and beautiful spindly art pieces right alongside project boxes and monitor stands. I mean, they don’t call me the laser princess for nothing.

I was left wondering how I could show Maya that technology isn’t separate from the beauty of art or the flair of fashion – the stuff that girlishness is made of. And then I remembered I’d made this the week before.

It’s just a little pendant made from a design that never got used in the Alias ARG; but it was made with the help of a robot. A laser robot. Maya had to have one of these. Here’s the letter I sent her.

Hello Maya!
My name is Haley and I’m from Texas. I heard that some of the girls at your school think that cars and robots are for boys. I really hope they don’t think that, because cars and robots are awesome!

Cars are fast and beautiful and fun to ride in, and robots are smart and cool can do all kinds of things. Did you know robots can do girl stuff too? Me and one of the robots at my hackerspace got together and made this necklace for you.

(In case you didn’t know, a hackerspace is basically a clubhouse for girls and boys who like to play with robots. We have robots that fly and robots that run around like little spiders and robots that can sculpt like artists!)

I made your necklace with the robot that fires lasers. I gave it instructions, and the robot used really strong lasers to cut it out and make all the swirly patterns on it. It’s sparkly and pretty and totally made by a robot armed with lasers.

I make lots of cute jewelry with this robot, and people love it. So the next time someone tells you robots are for boys, just tell them a robot made THIS.

Love and cute convertibles,
Haley Moore

When I went to cut out Maya’s pendant, the laser was down for some minor repairs, so I had some time to sit around and toy with the idea of packaging the necklace too. I wanted to say in the package everything that I’d put in the letter, so that at a glance you’d know:

  1. Robots make things that girls want, for girls.
  2. A robot made this particular thing.
  3. This is something to remember whenever you feel like technology isn’t girly enough.

I came up with a package design with a robot reaching over the top of a regular jewelry card, with its manipulators around the attachment points for the necklace, as if the robot had just finished making it and was now handing it to the girl. It includes mechanical design elements, holographic paper, pink, swirly text and lace.

The robot is vaguely feminine but not super feminine – it’s just a machine, not a Fembot or Rosie from the Jetsons.  The declaration “A Robot Made This!” is written in a mix of typefaces that convey femininity and ties to technology.  The holographic paper tells you the product has a science element, and the lace tooling tells you that this isn’t just something for boys that’s been colored pink.

At this point, I wanted to jump down the rabbit hole and make an entire line of CNC produced pieces of jewelry for girls – design store displays, write all sorts of educational copy, start looking for retail targets – but I have to keep my focus. For the moment, this is just a nice thing I did for one kid, and hopefully it was helpful.

This necklace, along with three other designs, is for sale in my Etsy store. If you’d like yours to come on a card like the one I sent Maya, send me a note and I’ll package it that way for free.


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