Documentation — different from some of the more classic forms of writing, and despite not being highbrow literature– is a form of art nonetheless. Whether it be to protect yourself from being charged with patent infringement, or to keep your intellectual property as your own, the ability to properly document and present one’s work is an invaluable skill for any engineer or maker.
Adafruit’s Blog does an excellent post reporting on how the Maker Movement meets patent law.
Beyond just keeping you legally covered, documentation can be useful when it comes to actually creating things as well! Recording previous ideas and projects is a form of brainstorming and you never know what evolution may take place between your brain and the paper. Mapping one’s progress, in addition to being exceedingly satisfying, is also a great way to keep you efficient. Much like hedge trimming, the pruning and care of your existing ideas is essential in the pursuit of new growth. It also allows for others to expand and appreciate your work!
So how exactly does one go about that?
Well, it helps to start with the main three documentation forms. Its important to note that good documentation includes all three, but most people have a preference.
Main Documentation Forms:
It can be tricky. Oftentimes when one is in the throes of creativity, it can be detrimental to slow down and take that precious time and energy to start writing stuff down. While it is tempting to think that you will later remember all of the steps with ease, in actuality once you exit that “Zone” it can be difficult to go back and re-visit those thoughts. Try to take pictures as you go along (especially important if you want to show a project in any stage of development other than finished). Photograph the materials, the tools/work space, the first attempt, the rebuild, the mess you made. Or, if spur of the moment photography is not your thing, you could even set up your webcam so it records the duration of your build. Then just edit and take screenshots later.
If you are an avid whiteboard user, photograph your whiteboards before you erase them!
Plus! While it can feel a bit of a pain to document when you just want to keep being creative, doing so can actually serve to preserve the creative state in a way, so that revisiting the photos, drawings, and notes can help re-inspire you all over again.
Start by writing down your original vision for an idea or project. Detail how you plan to achieve this goal. It is important to set a baseline, because even if your final product looks nothing like the original, you can easily see the progress.
When actually building/working, try to write down most anything that comes to mind as important. Keep a work space diary. Nothing is too trivial, and it’s often a good idea to not use your engineering notebook for this part, because it can at times feel like something is “not important” enough to write down on that rather expensive paper. I personally like to use the extra pages in my outdated planners and calendars, because since they are going to be thrown out anyway, it seems like they are worth less when I am not ready for the commitment of a full sheet of real paper.
Once your idea takes shape a bit more, you can transition into your engineering notebook and start more official documentation. This is often done as an post-build activity, where you can reference all your notes!
This is a very similar principle to note taking, but for the more visual person. Keep in mind if you are really struggling to convey something via words, try just jotting a quick sketch instead!
Also, for your own protection, date everything ! Even if people don’t believe your handwritten date they tend to become convinced when your entire body of work and progression follows a set timeline.
If you cannot think of what to write in your documentation, try thinking about your/the project’s:
- Small victories
- The idea itself’s journey and how it may have changed
- The inspiration for this project
- Potential applications you see
- Potential places you can share or sell your finished project
There are also some excellent online resources to assist in your documentation, and help get your work seen by a community!
Great for sharing projects in a supportive community!
Perfect for showcasing finished ideas/projects in a professional setting.
Massive community, awesome interface. Great for sharing any project or tutorial.