Post 4 – Makers Unite


The topical nature of refugees and asylum seekers is rather confronting and thus is not often the subject matter of designs. Yet when designers do explore such social issues, interesting insights are to be gained. A great example of this is ‘Makers Unite’, a project that earned recognition as the top five designs in the ‘What Design Can Do Challenge’.

Makers Unite is a service design project in the sense that it organises people and infrastructure in an innovative way to deal with complex problems around refugees and asylum seekers. Whilst it has a niche focus in that it seeks to ‘design meaningful sustainable products re-using life vests’ the program connects locals and newcomers ‘to co-create inclusive and shared communities’

The idea of upcycling life vests seemed ingenious to me. It’s something that many refugees and asylum seekers depend on to save their lives and at the same time the thousands of life vests that end up onshore are a symbol of the human plight. This especially resonates with an artwork titled F-Lotus by Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei where he installed life jackets in Vienna ‘as part of a continued campaign to raise awareness of the Syrian Refugee crisis’.

However what’s unique about Makers Unite is the ecosystem it creates. As evidenced in the knowledge flow diagram, people are involved in multiple levels of the project and further the feedback loop generated in this approach, allows the organisation to evolve and change perceptions overtime, a large barrier for refugees and asylum seekers.

Whilst it does not rely on many new technologies and materials, the innovative component is in the strategy and approach they have adopted. The ‘sustainist design toolkit’ refers to their sustainable practice which seeks to limit waste. More importantly however is the people they bring together, Harnessing the skills or lack of skills of locals designers and students and migrants and new comers allows for self organisation where a learning environment is created organically. While this may seem simple, this approach is valuable as giving autonomy to migrants and locals has a ten fold effect in that it develops their self confidence, diminishes their uncertainty and establishes empathy from both sides. Further to this, the profits raised support the continuity of tho project and also provide assistance to facilitate new businesses that tackle these issues. Essentially the ecosystem of Makers Unite fosters a strong community around the fragile and complex problem of diaspora.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.09.21 pm
Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.10.32 pm

Creating awareness through a unique campaign where life vests are used to generate type and consequently convey a message.

The Ribbons

‘Here they are… the prototypes of our first ribbons.’

This successful idea of promoting the cause through a ribbon made of life vests is one outcome of the many projects Makers Unite work on.

 Reference List,
  1. Weiwei,A. 2016, ‘F-Lotus’, [online], <;.
  2. Makers Unite, n.a., ‘Knowledge Flow’, [online], <;
  3. Makers Unite, n.a., ‘Practice’, [online], <;
  4. Makers Unite, n.a., ‘#Re_Vestlife’, [online], <!#Re_Vestlife/zoom/c1dmp/dataItem-iq3i06ry&gt;.
  5. Makers Unite, n.a., ‘The Ribbons’, [online], <!The Ribbons/zoom/c1dmp/dataItem-imdo1x7f1>.


%d bloggers like this: