Ten years ago, Jane ni Dhulchaointigh invented Sugru, a water and heat-resistant, sticky substance akin to Play-Doh. “What if products were more like software?” Jane asked audiences this week at Wired 2013, “Where you can make things work for you rather than stick with how it comes out of a factory?” This was the thinking behind Sugru, which attracted a creative, passionate following.
“This is genuinely about a new culture,” says Jane, “about making and fixing things… We saw it as this completely utilitarian, democratising design, and our vision was always big. We wanted to develop the science and license it to a big company to do sales and marketing. Then a friend said this to me; ‘start small and make it good’, and it was the best advice I ever had.”
So Sugru samples were sent out to the blogosphere, the press, and the public, who came up with an array of innovative, unconventional uses for the product, and posted pictures on the website. It flew around the internet and captured people’s imagination. It’s been snowballing since, with more pictures and stories than ever – it’s really phenomenal to hear from these people.”
During her Wired 2013 session, Jane shared a number of ways in which people have used Sugru, such as the tortoise owners who used it to attach GPS devices to their pets’ backs, and the father who covered his camera in Sugru as padding, before handing it to his three year old amateur photographer.
The most inspiring story, though, came from a Canadian canoeist named Joanne, who moulded Sugru around her oar, enabling her to get a solid grip despite only having fingers on one hand. This modification meant that she was able to compete in a race that lasted for three days and nights, something which previously would have been impossible.
“All our growth comes from a community of people that take Sugru and share online what they’ve done,” concludes Jane. “It’s not because of anything to do with Sugru, it’s because people are really awesome. People have an amazing feeling of pride and confidence when they see they can fix something – even when fixing a fridge, they think ‘I’ve beaten the system!’”