From ReadyMade to Paper Punk: Grace Hawthorne

Grace Hawthorne is a designer, maker, entrepreneur, author, and educator. She helped give legs to the DIY movement with her magazine ReadyMade in the early 2000’s and continues to experiment with material and form. Her latest endeavor Paper Punk, the “instant creativity booster shot” was funded on Kickstarter and combines the structure of building blocks with the craft of origami. Strategy World Tour San Francisco participants will meet Grace in her studio to discuss the history of the maker movement and how we can continue to explore how we use her favorite tools: the hands and mind.

IIT Institute of Design: What was the kernel that made you start ReadyMade and later Paper Punk?

Grace Hawthorne: ReadyMade pioneered the modern maker movement and reuse design in 2001 when the resurgence of craft was percolating underground, the DIY/makeover home show craze had not yet become a pop culture phenomenon, and the word “green” was still just a color. This was the inflection point when the act of making broke away from the traditional home economics class stereotype and the geeky ham radio fanatics. We had our pulse on the Gen XYers, who were not only real stewards of the earth but were also finding it increasingly difficult to express themselves amongst the mass-produced products in the marketplace. Because they were spending more time on a computer at work, they ached to get away from the screen. The gratifying feeling of using their hands to make something, personalizing it, and calling it their own filled that void. Skills that were necessities for the boomer generation were quickly becoming hipster hobbies. The magazine served as a convening place for like-minded folks to share the cool things they made with each other.

Grace Hawthore Readymade
Early RM days— A photo of our first office in the back of a warehouse that stored furniture from defunct tech businesses during the first bubble circa 2001. We had a line of cool, creative 20-somethings lining up to work for us for free but couldn’t find an available art director who worked in Quark (remember that program?). Readers would send us projects and photos unsolicited…also the beginning of reader created content. It was just a bunch of like-minded folks who loved to make things. We didn’t know it was the beginning of a cultural revolution.

Paper Punk continues the line of making from inspiring people to enabling people. I conceived Paper Punk, a mash-up of LEGO® and origami that transforms flat 2D paper shapes into bold 3D geometric forms with a simple fold, after my graduate students could not successfully complete a dimensional thinking exercise. The experience of transforming flat 2D paper shapes into voluminous 3D paper blocks is not just a fun feat of making a paper toy or art form, it is an exercise in dimensional thinking, rapid prototyping, bias to action, geometry, engineering, art, and creativity. So if you’re not in my class running through Iron Chef–like activities with office supplies at Stanford, you can make a Paper Punk at home and receive comparable benefits. By modernizing origami into an accessible creativity tool, Paper Punk enables people to exercise their creativity and stay connected to the tangible world by making something with their hands.

GH Paper Punk city at Dwell
Paper Punk at Dwell on Design — A three day Urban-Fold-a-Thon where attendees collectively built a paper metropolis.

Tell us about your material choices. How does sustainability factor into what you make?

Paper as a raw material is ubiquitous, but redefined as a creativity tool/toy, it takes on new life and much needed meaning in a modern world increasingly lost in daily digital conveniences. Paper is no longer paper; it is a tool of reimagination and creative potential. That being said, when I was unable to donate medium-sized LEGO® my kids had outgrown to Goodwill, the experience pointed to the need for an environmentally friendly construction tool/toy. From a business standpoint, user accessibility may trump sustainability for paper as a material choice.

Grace Hawthorne Studio
Paper Punk studio — The wall of affirmations and cool stuff.

You’re still involved in making. What’s different now than at the start of the maker movement? What do you see changing in the next three months? Ten years?

Hands-on making has grown exponentially over the past ten years since the likes of ReadyMade (2001) and MAKE (2005) came onto the scene. It is a definable cultural movement that will continue to grow as our technological advances continue to create a digital divide between our authentic real-life experiences and the flat 2D, digital ones. Making reflects our need as a species to retain contact with nature, with ourselves, and with each other.

Regardless of any technological innovation to come, our hands combined with our minds are the most potent, reliable tool for innovation in the century to come, which is why hands-on making is even more important now. The danger in becoming disconnected with the tangible world is that we lose touch with the virtues and characteristics that make us uniquely human: our sense of imagination and ability to make unique connections amongst disparate facts. Nothing replaces the authenticity and impact of an interaction or learning experience in the real world. We are both the subject in need and the solution rolled into one. In the next ten years, hands-on making will become even more critical to the process of innovation, more essential to education, and most valuable to our ability to satiate the physical and emotional needs of our existence.

Grace Hawthorne Paper Punk APE