The need of a digital DIY movement for repair

The maker and DIY movement embeds a high potential in terms of technological and social innovation. Amateurs, prosumers, craft consumers are engaged in the production of the artefacts they need, enabled by the use of rapid manufacturing technology, such as 3D printers and laser cutters.

The opportunity that such technology and socio-technical system provides in terms of access to the production means has been envisaged also as a threat for the environment due to the possible escalation of resource consumption. The possibility of making almost anything as promised by Neil Gershenfeld, the founder of FabLabs, may encourage people to test and apply their maker skill. The side-effect is that on the one hand people may be just curious to experiment with a new engaging technology – like playing with a new toy – and thus producing objects without a purpose, also called ‘crapjects’, ‘phatic objects’ [1] or ‘no pongos’.

On the other side, rapid manufacturing technologies are sub-optimal and less energy-efficient for the production of items which can be also made through mass-production systems, as the former ones tend to consume more materials and energy per item.

These two cases necessarily are not exemplary of the whole cases. Some researchers questioned that makers use such technologies to replace mass manufactured products [2] and furthermore making purposeless objects could bring about positive psychological effects on the individual.

However, the potential of the maker movement and DIY practice in general has been limitedly explored to generate positive environmental impact.

It has been claimed that now a fixer – rather than maker – movement is needed. Major international organization are committed to face climate change and the environmental issue due to the human overconsumption of natural resources. The current making hype can provide a significant contribution. Rapid manufacturing technology together with platforms for sharing and peer producing can enable people to change behaviours, triggering novel practices of consumption, and enabling people to apply their right to repair.

During my PhD I explored how the current DIY social phenomenon could be an opportunity to foster social and environmental sustainability. In particular, I investigated the DIY for re-pairing, re-using, re-purposing and ‘re-appropriating’ furniture and domestic items which reached their end of life – a practice that I named RE-DIY [3]. I had the opportunity to see how non-professional people get satisfaction, feel empowered, improve skills and connect with the others when repairing a chair, restoring a piano, reupholstering a stool, reusing reclaimed wood for a new bench, repurposing cabinets or making an heirloom their own by themselves (Figure 1). In addition, they contributed to extend object lifetime and as a consequence increase the energy embedded in those items.

Figure 1. Example of a RE-DIY product made by one of the interviewees in my PhD research, who repurposed several drawers to make a unique piece of furniture.


Digital production technology could amplify the potential of RE-DIY, for instance helping people to 3D print parts which are no longer available for sale. Legal implications have been raised but the overall benefits of RE-DIY towards the major environmental goal are evident and possibly policy makers will intervene to foster such practice has partly seen towards planned obsolescence.


Giuseppe Salvia and the Polimi Team


Cited references

[1] Bosqué C. (2015). What are you printing? Ambivalent emancipation by 3D printing. Rapid Prototyping Journal, 21(5), 572–581.

[2] Maldini I. (2014). From “Do it yourself” to “Open design”: users’ involvement and democratization. Design Frontiers: Territories, Concepts, Technologies. 8th Conference of the International Committee for Design History & Design Study., 364–367.

[3] Salvia G (2016) The satisfactory and (possibly) sustainable practice of transforming artefacts: the proposal of the catalyst role for design. Journal of Design Research, 14(1), 22-41