What makes a Maker? Are Designers better?

 Women love painting wooden tables
When friends ask what I've been doing lately, I answer "makin' stuff." When I wake up in the middle of the night, I don't fret about global warming or my bones going soft. I obsess over how to turn a candy box into a phone case.

So I think I qualify as a "Maker." And until yesterday, that was a good thing. But then I read a blog post about 8 artists' design processes. One artist praised another for being a "designer," not just a "maker."

What's the difference? 

Here's the comment that started me thinking. It comes from Diane (author of CraftyPod):
"I think this is the skill that sets a designer apart from a maker. A maker is happy that the thing got made; the designer is always seeing how it could be made better next time."
So a designer is always trying to perfect a single design? And a maker just wants to pump things out? 

Ok, being defensive won't help. Here's how I look at the difference. 

Designing women and men

A designer spends a lot of time thinking, planning, and sketching. My husband is a designer. He sits at his end of our long worktable for hours, building blueprints in his mind. Periodically he gets up, wanders down to his office, and spends more hours at his computer, prototyping in SketchUp. 

Here are 2 of his prototypes for a clock made of wooden whisky stoppers and metal rods. He was inspired by an exhibition of George Nelson's mid-century designs.
My husband's design for a sunburst clock

My husband's design for a sunburst clock
When will it be done? The real question is, when will it be begun?
When he's satisfied with his design and has double-checked all his measurements, he starts making. And of course what he makes is almost perfect.

What makes a maker?

In contrast, a maker starts cutting or gluing as soon as an idea strikes. Blogger Laura at We Wilsons calls herself "an optimistic jump-right-in kinda girl." That's me, for sure.

Sometimes I sketch my ideas. But only once. Then I start cutting or punching holes or ripping paper. Here's my sketch for a tote made out of coffee bean bags.
sketch of tote made from coffee bean bags
Here's how it turned out:
messenger bag made of coffee bean bags
During the construction process, the tote turned into a messenger bag. Which I admit, may have been a mistake. But that's where my little maker fingers led me.

Born or made?

I think with my hands. To solve a problem, I need to experiment with real stuff I can manipulate. My mom was the same way. Unfortunately, I never asked her about her process, but I observed her often enough, her hands always busy with fabric or yarn or embroidery thread. 

Her mother -- my grandmother -- wasn't a constant "maker," but her hands were always moving. At the dining room table after dinner, she would smooth the white tablecloth with her fingers, brushing breadcrumbs into tiny piles.
With my feisty grandmother, circa 1988
I also inherited my grandmother's love of penny-ante poker.
So being a maker is in my genes. It doesn't mean I lack imagination. Just that the imagination isn't in my brain. It's in my hands.

What kind of artist are you -- maker or designer?

So what do you think? Is this the right way to think about the difference between maker vs. designer? Do you see yourself as one or the other? I'd love to know.


  1. Do I have to be one or the other??? Some projects I design the heck out of before beginning - others I jump in and design/make as I go. I think it's an artistic process no matter what we do/how we get there.

    There is a debate in the weaving community that you are either a color/texture person or a (weave)structure person......I have never bought into that thought process because I love color/texture and I love structure and combine them often. I'm not an either/or and I don't want to be labeled either/or.....I want to do it all.

  2. I agree it's not either/or. But I do feel more comfortable in the "let's try it out and see what happens" mode. So maybe it's a matter of degree. Perhaps you're right in the middle, which means you can adapt to whatever the situation calls for.

  3. Maybe I'm just weird... I always thought designing and making were two different things. Designing being the planning and the making being the... making. Creating. The using of the hands. So *shrugs* I think it's just another splitting of hairs that make people feel superior. Like the whole art vs. craft thing.

    1. No not weird. You're right, I'm probably overthinking it. Labels don't really matter. But I am interested in people's creative processes. They differ so much from one artist to another (or one "maker" to another).


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