Recently I had the blessing of connecting with Melody Quintana & Sneha Pai, creators of a fabulous Kickstarter project called The Maker Alphabet. (“A is for Arduino,” if that gives you any clue!) These two artist-makers snagged Kickstarter’s headline as “Project of the Day,” and soon after FastCo Design picked up their story. When I saw their emphasis on Making, and their desire to help nurture the next generation of Makers, I knew I had to chat with them. Despite their newfound celebrity . . . they graciously agreed to share their story and their wisdom here on my blog.
There are just a few days left to be part of The Maker Alphabet! Check it out here.
Can you each introduce yourselves?
Sure! Growing up in New Jersey, I could often be found writing stories, drawing blueprints of imaginary buildings, and daydreaming about the future. When I went to college, I was curious about so many things that I found it difficult to choose one! So I culled inspiration from a bunch of different disciplines and cobbled together a major in Comparative Literature and Society. After graduating, I became a writer and content strategist at Facebook for 5 years. It was a transformative experience — living on the West Coast, working in tech, learning and growing from some of the best and brightest — but eventually, I knew it was time to stretch myself in a new way.
That’s when I decided to go to grad school for interaction design. I’d always been a systems thinker and found so many parallels between the creative processes of writing and design, so it felt natural and exciting to have the chance to explore and expand myself in the realm of design. Now as I round out my first year in the IxD program at SVA, I’m so glad I did! The experience has been challenging and rewarding, a true labor of love.
I was born and raised in India and my family moved to California when I was 8. I was a voracious reader as a child, and my favorite books were about how things work. I loved arts and crafts as well, and I developed a deeper interest in high school, when I learned the art of drawing and painting from observation. I took numerous art classes throughout my high school years, and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to study animation.
After graduating, I became a medical animator at MedStar Health’s Simulation Training Education Lab (SiTEL), where I created medical video games that help doctors and residents train in various procedures and protocols. After six years as an animator, I wanted to learn how to design better tools for healthcare and medicine, and so I moved to New York City to pursue my masters in interaction design at The School of Visual Arts (SVA).
How did you meet and begin creatively working together?
We met last fall in our first semester at SVA, and we realized early on that we share a lot of the same ways of thinking about about design. We both love telling stories, and our different backgrounds in writing and illustration complement one another creatively. Initially we joked about how fun it would be to make a children’s book together. It’s crazy to think that only a few months later we’re actually doing it!
Tell us how you first came up with the idea for The Maker Alphabet.
In our first semester at SVA, we had a class called Fundamentals of Physical Computing that introduced us to the world of electronics. It’s a fun hobby, but definitely takes time to learn and get comfortable with if you don’t have a technical background. At the time, we wished there was a resource that explained the basics in simpler terms. We thought “A is for Arduino” sounded really cute for a potential children’s book.
Later on, our idea evolved from a niche storybook about electronics to one that’s more broadly about being a maker. It’s something we both feel passionate about, so we had a ball brainstorming ideas for the content.
In your spare time, what else do you make, besides books?
We spend an unhealthy amount of time tinkering in our maker space at SVA! We’ve worked on all sorts of creative projects that straddle the physical and digital realms. Some examples include prototyping a wearable device for the year 2046, reimagining the tourist experience for Citibike (NYC’s bike share program), and creating data visualizations for companies like American Express and MTA. When we’re not in the studio, we both enjoy cooking and geeking out on the latest news in tech.
Tell us about how/why you decided to use Kickstarter for your campaign.
The impetus to put the book out on Kickstarter came from a class we’re currently taking called Entrepreneurial Design. For a semester-long project, we were tasked with launching and marketing an idea before the semester ended. Kickstarter was a great channel for us learn about what goes into pitching an idea and getting funding in a short amount of time.
What advice would you have for other writers and artists who want to create and distribute their own work?
One of the most important things we’ve learned in the process of becoming entrepreneurs is to manage the temptation to be overly precious with our work. As artists, we tend to want to hold back sharing our ideas and work until we think we’ve perfected them. But when you have an idea, it’s really valuable to put it out there and get feedback on it while you’re still in the process of iterating. Being able to gauge how people respond to the essential idea before you get too far down a rabbit hole makes all the difference.
Learn more about Melody, Sneha and their project The Maker Alphabet here.