Grant Custer

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Seams and possibilities: software programming and DIY furniture

okay, to start, an analogy: long ago, a sing le person could build the best video game that existed. Adventure didn’t require 200 developers and 18 months to get out the door. as technology improved, so did expectations. Adventure was my goal. Today’s kids’ goal is fortnite. ā€”@steveklabnik

One of the things I keep coming back to is the value of visible seams. The idea that you can look at something and develop a mental model of how it works or how it is made.

I love the mental process of being able to look at something, and kind of load it into your head, rotate it, explode it, think about how you could make some interventions and try and trace out how they would propogate out. I want to make stuff where that people can do that with, and I’m hoping, if I aim it right, I can make things that not only explain themselves, but also open a path to understanding other things (other computer programs, maybe computers themselves).

Computer programs and DIY furniture

I mainly think about this in relation to computer programs, but it’s interesting to compare how it plays out in software with how it plays out elsewhere. I’ve been doing some woordworking lately and thinking about visible construction in furniture. I think a lot of furniture does expose most of it’s construction (especially the minimalist stuff I tend to like). The technology of Ikea furniture is mainly in the logistics and mass production. If you look at a specific bookshelf, you can probably reverse engineer and recreate it yourself. There is definitely some disguising (almost skeuomorphism) where the fiberboard nature of fiberboard is concealed.

Wood as a material is interesting. It’s a strange set of modifications that wood allows. The form we usually buy it in, straightened planks (which take a trememndous amount of logistical and operational effort to produce), are building blocks you can cut to size. You can glue or screw the cut pieces together. It plays best (at least in the context of the common tools and techniques available) with right angles. Once you’ve done some work with it you can understand a lot more of the built world around you.

I’ve been doing a lot of work with plywood, which is a marvel in its uniformity and straightness. The aesthetics and politics of covering up plywood edges are interesting. I’ve been resisting doing it, honesty of materials and all that, but I may feel differently in the future. One thing I’ve been thinking about in terms of furniture in the home (or office) is how much the set of furniture around you influences your ideas of the possibilities. For me, if it’s a set of pretty straightforward plywood constructions, I feel more comfortable modifying and making additions. I even feel a sense of calm from being able to look around and feel like “I understand how all of this was put together”. For Youtube tutorial videos, I often find people’s shop projects more interesting than their finished home solutions. The fine home stuff feels closed off to further development to me. Of course there’s a balance there, I would not want to go full shop aesthetic in my apartment. But it’s interesting to try and trace out how the surroundings affect my ideas of possibilities.


I didn’t really write much about computer programs. I feel like this fuzzily defined set of issues is something I want to keep coming back to, so I’ll plan to write more in the future. I especially want to get into how legos and Minecraft fit into all of this.

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Grant Custer is a designer-programmer interested in alternative interfaces.

You can see work and inspiration in progress on my Feed and my alternative interface experiments on Constraint Systems. Iā€™m happy to talk on Twitter, email: grantcuster at gmail dot com, or Mastodon. You can see a full list of projects on my Index.