Black Rock City, NV: 

This is how I started one of the world’s largest maker projects as an accidental spoof: 

In 2005 my wife asked for a collapsible bench to sit on while camping. I sketched the equivalent of a park bench that could ship flat and assemble/disassemble in moments. It used exactly one sheet of plywood cut into pieces with slots, needing zero fasteners. My friends said it was cool and I should share the design on the web.

So as a joke, I started a spoof dot-com, to “sell” the plans for $5. To promote the spoof at Burning Man where good spoofs are appreciated but commercial promoting is the biggest no-no, I made the PayPal button send the money directly to Burning Man’s non-profit arts foundation to fund art grants. Then I declared the brand itself to be the art as part of the joke, did ridiculous promotions claiming our products would kick IKEA out of Burning Man, and gave every page on the web site a different silly corporate tagline. 

Well, the joke took off from Burning Man to Wired Magazine, while I found it fun to re-execute all kinds of structures in ship-flat slotted plywood form, from beds to bike racks to bars to stages – even bleachers, a photo booth, and a goth coffin. Today we have nearly 50 published designs, including some created by friends and some I found in old books – check them out

Within a couple years, thousands of people had gotten together with friends to build these designs, and nowadays it is thousands per year, including many picking up power tools for the first time. We pretty much did kick IKEA out of the US festival circuit, and our “brand” is known and loved all the way to South Africa – and everywhere else where people camp and plywood is common. Works great for camping, tiny homes, festivals, disaster recovery, and who knows what else because by now lots of people have made their own designs. 

Playatech is the most fun I ever had with a startup and still cracks me up: nearly 15 years on, folks still fall for the spoof of thinking we are a real company breaking the rules at Burning Man, and tell us to stop – which to me must mean my art still work as well as my fake company’s furniture designs! Shh, don’t tell anyone:)

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