Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories — Meet Lenore: Co-Founder, Inventor, Maker.
Lenore Edman is a co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories and likes to play at the intersections of food, electronics, papercraft, engineering and art.
When Lenore and her partner moved to California, their kitchen table broke. They decided that they needed to make a new table — most people would buy a new one, but not them. Theirs needed to be an interactive LED dining table. Around this time, an event was announced, Maker Faire and they had tables available for project display, measuring 30 x 60 inches. Hilariously, this was the exact measurements of their new interactive table, so they took that and displayed it.
People were intrigued and wanted to build their own (this is the nature of Makers) and so Lenore and her partner began creating kits with circuit boards which were more straightforward and reproducible than trying to make the table itself from scratch. They created the first batch of kits and did pre-orders, and the profits from that went into the next project. They eventually made PCB based microcontroller kits and their focus was on providing really thorough instructions, so people would be successful in their project. This practice of making and selling kits became an evening and weekend hobby as Lenore was working as an Executive Assistant at a biotech company at the time, and soon enough, their kits became full time work and Evil Mad Scientist was born.
Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories is “a family owned small business in California, designing and producing “DIY and open source hardware for art, education, and world domination.” Their products, such as the Axidraw, a “High Performance Personal Writing and Drawing Machine” have become known world wide and are now prepared for shipping by Lenore, her partner and their 6 employees. They have a wide audience who use their other products for everything from fun to research.
7 Questions with Lenore M. Edman
- What are you curious about in technology right now?
I’m personally interested in how we’re using remote communication right now. I’m really fascinated by watching people try out new forms of connection through all the remote tools. I’m curious to see how much of that sticks around in our society, and what kinds of new ways are people going to be communicating using these tools. Right now it’s interesting that people are trying to replicate experiences online that they had in person. The Nebula Awards for example, had to move online and they did a lot of research and in their practice parties made a main Zoom room called the “Entry Way” and then breakout rooms called, for example, “the Kitchen”. Well of course, everyone wants to hang out in the kitchen, like at a normal party. They thought of so many details, they provided really great instructions and they made it okay to try things out and be uncomfortable. They even had dress codes, such as “Evening wear” which could mean formal wear, or pajamas, both are okay.
2. Why or how did you choose this path?
I’ve been making things all my life, sewing or building things. An example of this was where I used to live, in Colorado, where one of the communities I was a part of was the “Cruiser bike” community. We met weekly and for fun, decorated our bikes (https://www.evilmadscientist.com/2007/bicycle-seat-cover-project/) and ourselves with costumes and lights. And one of the best ways to get people to learn is to get them to have a goal, if they have something they want to build, they will be motivated to learn. I found Cruiser bikes and I wanted to learn how to create lights and costumes. When we moved to the Bay Area in California, we found Makerfaire, and dove head in.
3. What has been your biggest failure in the past year, and what did you learn from that?
I’ve struggled with balance. A small business will eat as much as you give it, of your time, of your energy. There are always things to be done. For the past few years, I’ve been focused on staying balanced in terms of energy, focus, and making sure I’m taking the time to recharge. That’s what I worry about, that it might not be fun or rewarding anymore.
4. What is your biggest daily challenge working with technology in this field?
Early on, we printed instructions for our kits, some were even in comic book style! This turned into PDFs, and now we have extensive product information pages that we put a lot of time and care into. However, a lot of people are very interested in video based tutorials. These take a lot of time to produce, so we’re evaluating how we can strike a balance between providing this and focusing on our core business. In general, I’m making sure that we’re responding to our customer’s needs with the tools we create to help them have success with them. If I find that I’m answering the same question again and again, I need to improve this communication.
5. How do you see concretely, the next 5 years and this new decade in tech?
I don’t think there’s going to be some big jump in technology, we’re always finding new ways of using the same things, or rediscovering old things and using them in new ways. We’re going to have more of the same. We’ve had things like VR headsets long enough, now maybe we’ll start doing things with them, or for another example, now that drones have been around long enough, we have better cinematography. Technology, when it’s around long enough, develops ecosystems and infrastructure. The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
6. What has been your favourite project to date and why?
Quiltbert, a quilt based on the video game Q*bert. The quilting pattern is a tumbling blocks quilting pattern and the quilt is designed from a screenshot of Q*bert. It’s using non traditional quilting techniques. It’s a fun project because it’s retro and it touches people’s hearts and the thing they loved when they were a certain age. It doesn’t take any technology, other than scissors, needle and thread to make. But it reflects the technologies that we surround ourselves with. I got to meet one of the people who is behind Q*bert as part of the project and he loved it. We’ve had many fun conversations after this. It’s nice that it’s old, low tech. It’s pertinent to our reality now because one of the ways that people are making masks (which are required in many parts of the USA) is out of their quilting scraps. These low tech skills are important.
7. What do you think is something we should be paying attention to?
The ways that people are learning to communicate throughout this crisis. We should be watching how we develop and nurture communities when we cannot be physically close. This is super important right now and there’s so much happening because of our isolation. That’s something to watch right now in real time.
Follow Lenore’s Work:
Evil Mad Scientist: http://www.evilmadscientist.com/
Greater Spaces is written by Majken Overgaard and Vanessa Julia Carpenter where we work to expand the narrative of what technology is and who creates it. We speak with Danish and international female role models within technology and between these interviews we share what is most interesting to us, with a focus on diversity.