“The Makers: How Becky Stern Designs Wearable Electronics” by Kathleen Harris at Levo League:
Becky Stern is the Director of Wearable Electronics at Adafruit. Each week she publishes a new do-it-yourself craft+tech project tutorial and video and also hosts the YouTube Live show “Wearable Electronics with Becky Stern.” She’s been combining textiles with electronics since 2005, and helps develop the Adafruit FLORA wearable Arduino-compatible product line. She’s been shooting video since age five, and sewing since age eight.
How crucial is design to who we are today?
Becky Stern: Design is about a pathway and goal to make things better in some way. Anything can be designed, from physical objects to processes, and I think it’s crucial for creating positive change.
Where do you get your ideas?
BS: I find inspiration everywhere, but it’s through chatting with colleagues that turns the inspiration into project ideas—I really need to talk it out! Since some projects are aesthetically oriented while others are hidden or purely functional, ideas are just as likely to come from streetwear fashion as they are from Sci-Fi and just playing with circuits to see “what if…” I keep a big running list of project ideas and let the most “urgent” ones bubble to the top.
What does your design process look like?
BS: We use a lot of high-tech tools to collaborate. I’ll frequently take quick videos and upload to Instagram and share the link with colleagues whose help or input I need. Since we make open source projects, we’re not shy ab out publicly sharing ideas that are in development or otherwise “coming soon.” There are a lot of moving parts to my design process across many mediums there’s electronics hardware, textiles, computer programming, as well as educational curriculum development through text, photo, and video. I take a holistic approach to my tutorial projects and try to first identify a target audience and learning objectives, then let those guide further decisions.
What is your ultimate goal with design?
BS: My goal is to inspire and teach creative people how to harness the power of technology for their own creations. If I’ve done my job right, my audience will feel motivated to try something new, knowing they can rely our guides and support forums for help. It makes me really happy to hear stories of parents making lightup princess tiaras with their daughters, who will grow up with the confidence to make technology their own.
What’s the biggest barrier women in your field face?
BS: In my experience, women are rarely judged solely on the quality of their work. Communication style and other social/visual cues play a bigger role for the success of my projects than it seems to for men in my field. The work needs to be really good and how I present myself matters, so I try to be five times better. My advice to other women in tech is to accept that while it’s certainly not fair, this disparity can and should be used to your advantage.
What advice do you have for the next generation of inventors and innovators?
BS: Iterate quickly. Fail faster. “Perfect” is the enemy of “finished.” Break apart your ideas into components and research them concurrently. Don’t let the haters get you down. Surround yourself with positivity and people who amplify and elevate you. Say no to most requests/opportunities that will draw you away from your focus and/or happiness. Eat protein at breakfast.