An Austin, Texas, school recently asked a Formaspace consultant to visit its new makerspace. Within minutes the consultant knew there were serious design problems. The artwork was strewn all over the floor while highly customized, purpose-built tables sat unused.

“Unfortunately, we see this problem more frequently,” said Jeff Turk, CEO of Formaspace. “Clients across many different disciplines now want to put makerspaces at the center of their design plan, but they don’t always know what will work together but will actually limit the use of the space.”

In the case of the school visit on that day, a design charrette resulted in the client asking for tables designed as 8-foot-diameter lazy susans. In theory, the ability to turn the table would enable students to work collaboratively. In practice, every errant spin of the wobbly table turned art supplies into dangerous projectiles. Students were rightly wary of putting their prized artwork on such unstable desks.

Ultimately, under Turk’s guidance, the school transformed the space. The school ditched the lazy susans in favor of light but sturdy tables that could pivot 90 degrees into display boards, organized tools, and made computer workstations mobile and adjustable in height. With these simple changes, the classroom blossomed into a far more usable space. “A makerspace should enable, and not disable creation,” added Turk. “The people who use the space should be eager to use it again.”

Here are a few general guidelines to creating an outstanding and collaborative makerspace:

Identify the ethos. Design for group dynamics and culture. Take realistic account of things your potential users might do (like using tables to sling projectiles into space).

Design for flexibility and adaptability. Select a furniture system that increases spatial efficiency and accommodates the entire range of needs for the particular types of makers that will use it.

Put it on wheels. Furniture should generally be modular and easy to nest as projects grow and shrink.

Plan plenty of power. Generous electrical power delivered from above on retractable reels, a clear plan for tool labeling, organization, and storage, and plentiful natural light make makerspaces shine.

Plan for makerspace type and materials usage. A makerspace for building Baja racers is quite different than one designed for creating visual art. Make sure power, data, services, and mechanical components including workbenches and storage are adequately specified for the intended use of the space.

Create a safe space for exploration. If designed well, makerspaces are fun, collaborative environments. There are, however, risks anywhere you find chemicals and power tools. Smart designers incorporate safety and security into their plans.

Work with an expert. Most makerspaces benefit from working with someone who has expertise in the safety and usability issues specific to makerspaces.

More makerspace projects here