The Data Necklace was designed and created by me, Stef Lewandowski, a designer, software developer and startup person - a hacker for short.
The beginnings of the idea
This project came about because of two awesome projects. The first is my residency on the Scottish Island of Eigg, where I am geek in residence at EiggBox , a soon-to-be-created cultural and creative centre for the island, whose population is around 90. It's a small, but amazing place.
A Crowdsourced project on the island that's a crowdsourcing project itself
In the 80s the islanders did their own version of Kickstarter, where they bought their own island from the Laird. It's a fascinating piece of British history - they created a public call for donations so they could achieve their funding target, and people far and wide donated their money to them so they could do it. Now, they run their own island through a Trust, and are free to be innovative and responsive to their needs - indeed they recently won an award for their one-of-a-kind electricity grid which runs throughout the year on wind, solar and wave power to achieve almost 100% renewable power for those who live there. Inspiring stuff.
I've worked on the web since around 1996, doing design work and writing software, but looking back at my portfolio so much of it has now disappeared. I was inspired by what the islanders had achieved and I wanted to do something more physical, in much the same way that many people have been inspired by the Maker movement that is beginning to gain popular awareness.
On my last trip, I took home some wool and began thinking about using felt as a material to create something decorative, perhaps using my existing skills somehow.
A quick recap for context. I was introduced to the idea of "generative" art and music through my degree in Computer Science - using nature-inspired methods to create unusual and interesting things using software, and it to some degree drove me team up with a friend to set up an experimental record label Type, but that's another story.
I combined some of these ideas into a quick prototype for a friend's birthday. I called it the Awesome Necklace. It's a wearable visualisation of all of the times she used the word "awesome" in a tweet over the last year. She really liked it, which spurred me on to think about making them for other people. But life got busy and I sat on the the idea.
Hacking and hack days
The lovely guys at Digital Sizzle were organising a hack day. If you're not familiar with the term, it's a day, or in this case a weekend, where people come together to make and experiment in a short space of time and then demonstrate the results to eachother.
The subject of the hackday these guys were organising was Art + Data, so it was an opportunity not to be missed. I organised for a couple of laser cutting companies to make their cutters available to me for the first day of the hack, and I spent the day frantically designing, coding, cutting, assembling and piecing together a handful of different Data Necklaces
By Sunday I was tired out, but the Data Necklace was born!
Awesome friends are awesome
In the first week after that hack day I sent a few people a link to what I'd been doing, and it just seemed that a bunch of my friends all set out to help make it so that this project could come about. Introductions to people, advice, help thinking through some of the challenges, using a toothbrush to clean off the edges of singed laser-cut felt for hours, you know, the usual! Thanks one and all. You've been ace.
Making these things was time-consuming and at that point I didn't have much spare cash to risk on getting all the kit I would need.
I thought I'd try a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. It was a modest challenge to gauge support, and a few people did support the idea, but not enough. It failed. I guess it's not that kind of project, and/or it was unwise to attempt a crowdfunding campaign whilst simultaneously moving house.
Seeking a maker
What this proved is that people like the idea of the Data Necklace, because the prototype got lots of attention. Getting the numbers to stack up, though, was hard. How much time would it take to produce each necklace? Who would do production and fulfilment? Is there a way to design something in the browser and then cut-and-ship on demand?
At that time I was founding my new company Makeshift and I was throwing all of my time and energy into getting that off the ground, so I paused on the Data Necklace for these reasons.
But the idea is sound, it just needs someone to take it on. Maybe that's you, and maybe you should get in touch if you think so.