Documentator is a station set up at ProtoSpace (Fablab Utrecht, NL) to collect project documentation from people before they leave the lab – the idea is to make the documenting of what people made a natural part of their lab visit with as little need for instruction and supervision as possible.
(originally posted March 22nd on my FabFolk.com blog)
Based on my year’s worth of experience of more often than not rather crazy busy lab open days (open inloop as we call them here in the low lands), I can think of a few reasons why this is not happening naturally
- Lab staff is busy with either advising people with lab machinery or engaged in their personal research activity to make the point of the importance of documentation, Creative Commons license etc. to people
- Documentation tools have not really been up to par to make it easy, fast and simple to document the manufacturing process either during or after a lab visit
So we decided to make something physical and harder to ignore than two sentences from lab manager when you first enter the lab.
As part of the lab management procedures, ProtoSpace has been collecting some information from the users for the purpose of keeping record who’s been there doing what – important for providing overviews for the lab supporting parties. To this end, we have been using a “kiosk” – a stand next to lab door to record some demographic data along with people’s intentions of lab use (browser window + simple Google Docs form).
Combining this information gathering need, the kiosk and the needs of documenting resulted in conceptualizing a check in / check out system and completing the circle by designing another kiosk for documenting the lab creations - the Documentator (design and prototype creation at ProtoSpace by Evert Veldhuis for his diploma in Product Design).
What happens at check in and check out stations – a few words outlining the process taking place below:
(1) User logs in with their ProtoSpace website user account. At account creation, we record and keep the non-changing demographic data as part of the user profile (only to be shown to lab adminstrative personnel)
(2) User can start a new project, or continue one of their existing projects.
At this stage, we only ask the user to fill in a few details on the project they intend to be working on at the lab: project name, short description and machines intended to use.
User action is logged for the lab administrative personnel – who who did what, when and with which machines.
(3) Check in is all done, some welcoming text is shown to user who may now enter the lab and start working on their project. The check in station automatically logs the user out and redirects back to the login screen for the next visitor walking in.
(1) User logs in.
(2) User can choose which one of their projects they completed that day.
(3) User completes more detailed description of their project: including picture, design source file and a full description of their project – a FabMoment.
(4) Check out is done – the FabMoment is published and shown on the user profile page as well as ProtoSpace FabMoments page (and beyond…)
Documentator automatically logs the user out and redirects back to the login screen.
Drupal is the web platform of choice at ProtoSpace, so it was natural to combine the whole check in / check out and documentation process under one umbrella, also considering we could make use of the plethora of functionality already contributed by the Drupal open source community. Drupal being a powerful content management system with an active and dedicated community, it should be reasonably future-proof for further development of Fablab documentation concepts (Drupal is currently used in many of the Dutch Fablabs and in few other labs globally).
Not to worry if Drupal if not your cup of tea as a Fablab website wrangler – under the Fablab “platform” conference calls taking place since the beginning of 2011 we are also working on Wordpress implementation (another web platform with strong foothold in the Fablab community) of documentation concepts and figuring out how to make choice of platform not matter too much when sharing designs between Fablabs.
As of this writing, we are running alpha tests and working out the last kinks out of version 1.0 of the check in / check out system. Hardware and software plans and instructions will be made available soon.