(Making a) Living on the Edge: Susanne Stauch

I wanted to see how somebody who creates physical things can make a living on the edge so I spoke to Susanne Stauch, a product designer & goldsmith.

Susanne is selling her skills by the hour for jewellery or designs, trying to sell her own work in galleries and starting to use online platforms although she says that she needs to improve in that area.

She has been trying to survive this way for a couple of years now after finishing university in 2008 and small jobs come in - selling her own work is quite difficult - so Susanne is usually happy when she has something to do for others.

Although she has a website, Susanne considers the big thing is to be more interactive, have an online store for products and she’s investigating things such as twitter. She hasn’t considered the web as a place to buy jewellery but thinks it works - she thought people needed to touch and wear jewellery before spending - but that’s referring to expensive jewellery, which is what she learned to do - now she is switching to more affordable pieces.

The website isn’t an online shop, at the moment it’s only possible to order or contact by email, so it’s more of an online portfolio. She hasn’t connected the two worlds so far: Susanne uses internet but hasn’t sold via it although it seems to work on platforms such as etsy and is now looking at http://monoqi.com which does auctions of pieces by designers, which she considers to be “a nice approach as people like stuff which has been pre-selected…  and they start to research you if they like you.”

Her diploma is in collaborative product design and she has studied mass customisation & open source. The question, she feels, is how to remain designers but share knowledge and designs? Uploading designs to be remixed is a strong opportunity and is the idea behind an event she is planning with Cookies’n’Code, called Create Your Own Future which wants to “bring together people from all kinds of backgrounds… to share skills, knowledge, ideas and needs and try to think about solutions and approaches of how we can live differently in the future and of how we can have more of this collaborative thought instead of competition.”

I asked her about an event in Berlin called makerplatz and she explained that the idea was that people could come and build their own things in a day with people who have planned & prepared it, so they get guidance through the process but they put things together themselves. It’s not something everybody wants to do everyday with all things but it’s a growing desire, to have another relationship with the objects they are surrounded by, in her opinion.

Create Your Own Future will be an ongoing thing - so many things happen on the web and people don’t really meet in the physical world so the idea is to bring them, with their ideas, to one place in the physical world so they can start to work and build and create things and from that, to build a community and a platform that can be working on the internet but new gatherings can be organised.

Making your own unique pieces is nice, Susanne feels, but she doesn’t need to do it and is much more interested in enabling people to discover their own creativity and possibilities, getting away from the “I can’t do this” and “I’m no good at this” into “let’s try it because it’s fun!” She continues, “we can build everything by ourselves and everyone can learn basically anything, probably not rocket science or medicine, within in a day but there are a lot of things that, if there’s the proper guidance and it’s prepared, people can really have a lot of fun and learn something and feel proud of themselves - the future role of a designer will shift from the taste giving specialist for an object, to much more design a process in which things can happen.”

(Full disclosure: Cookies’n’Code is a loose network of creative people in which I am now collaborating)


She is pretty brave.

I did a production of quiled paper jewelry (a full year, in 2010), and I can understand that selling creative jewelry is not easy. Most craft artists do not yet have an online shop. An online portal shop does not even exist yet for all crafts artists and other artistic disciplines (in Quebec).

I tried to create one with the government of Quebec (Department of Culture). But guess what? It’s like everything else, the project never took off.

I love the idea of a sort of collective design process.

Hi Lyne, thanks for your

Hi Lyne,

thanks for your comment and for calling me brave. You are probably right especially since you made your experiences in the jewelry design business. Actually these facts have been letting me avoid getting into the business too intensely after all. Selling jewelry is rather luck or coincidence even with friends I know who run such businesses on a highly professional level. And also the fact that it is something typically women wear close to their body and by which they present a certain taste, style or status, they usually want to see and touch it in 3D. I believe the online shop idea works only for low price fashion objects. Yet there are several platforms in the US and Europe, another one I just bumped into today is glossom.

I think getting our work onto the markets might work better without governments (or at least that is my conservative view about the stiffness of governments) and be more successful in an open and collaborative surrounding. Also setting up a platform where several open design projects with their specific configurators are presented is in my opinion a good approach to get the whole idea about participation in design into the public.

I’m that person!

Congratulations Susanne and Chris, this post is inspiring! Love the format, videos definitely make an impression…!

Actually, I found myself laughing because I’m that person saying: “I can’t do this” and “I’m no good at this”. Even now I was browsing local events in my hometown and apparently they’re hosting a series of Idea Incubator workshops in a coffee shop - about songwriting, percussion, even blogging… not the same thing like hand making stuff but I’m guessing similar in the sort of creative, inspiring, fun people to be with.

Reading you, Susanne and also Nadia on Cookiesncode and looking up your makers events I find myself very  inspired, but mostly curious, not like I could contribute in any way. Perhaps I’ll go and at least see what it’s like to spend time with these creative bunches of people .

At your events, do you also have people coming from more mainstream fields - maybe lawyers, or doctors, or people knowing less how to have fun and with a more rigid system of thought, people not socialized into arts and creative processes? If so, how do they keep up and lighten up a bit?

Creators is what we are

I do not know how it goes in these new types of events, but the more traditional ones, likes vernissages of art exhibitions have always attracted people with professions such as lawyers. There used to be a high percentage of lawyers in my circles of friends, closely following my artistic production. They loved to be in contact with artists, as their freedom of thought and creativity gave them energy, and surrounded them by beauty and inspiration.

Lawyers specialized in areas like copyright, I often thought, have a (repressed) artistic soul!

We are all creators. But many of us do not realize it. We create our lives with our thoughts. Therefore, everyone has a power of creativity, but artists have always played most wonderfully with it. This is why artists and philosophers are so important in our society: they help the rest of us remember what, and who we really are.

Beuys said “everbody is an artist”

Lyne you are absolutely right. I definitely agree that we are all creators and this is a very important discussion about society and governments and the way they distribute education or have been so far. In his book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” Buckminster Fuller explains his understanding of how our system of education for specialisation was developed and how it makes the people to become obedient and uncritical. Here we are at the core of my motivation for open design processes and enabling. Once people understand that their opinions, questions and ideas are highly important and that they can easily learn new skills and through this become more of a generalist, they also start to question the status quo. That is basically the privilege artists and designers have had until today: asking questions, having doubt and putting the finger in the wounds, coming up with innovative ideas or being rebellious in a political context. Which then was reduced to aesthetics and artsy expression. But basically this is what we all should do which in the end isn’t anything different than being responsible for ourselves, our choices and the world we create around ourselves. Again, this is where we want to get to with the CYOFuture event.

3D printing services

[H]ow to remain designers but share knowledge and designs? Uploading designs to be remixed is a strong opportunity …

True, and it’s also an opportunity for another path of revenue. There are 3D printing services popping up here and there where designers can upload designs, and customers can buy the designs and additionally pay the service provider to 3D print them. It’s not handicraft work any more, but good for business: a great design may sell many times without added production efforts.

Shapeways is, as far as I know, the most well-known one, also including a production hub in Germany. They’re printing in materials including stainless steel and sterling silver, and there’s much jewellry online already.

Susanne, you probably know about all this, I just wanted to throw that in as it might be interesting for others. It illustrates how fast novel business opportunities emerge on the net, also for the artisan people.

next level should be technocraft

Basically you describe my belief of future production which is there already but could be cultivated in a larger scale. By this, local craft people could be increasingly involved into on-demand production to finish the product that comes from the 3D printer. My project isopt (parametric porcelain) is an experiment about exactly this process of offering an open system to the client where they can not only choose from options but really interact with the design and shape of the object. It would then be 3D printed via lasersintering and be finished by a local ceramic workshop where it could be picked up by the client. So no costs for transport or storage but a personalized product the creator will always have a special relationship to. I would LOVE to do more of those projects and I have tried very hard to sell this concept to the conservative porcelain companies in Germany but they are too afraid to go new ways (this was in 2008/09). The 3D printing technology is improving so rapidly in terms of refining the layerthickness, visual quality, speed of printing and even multi material in one printing process that in my opinion it will push us to a democratized and self sustainable production which will eventually be independent from the global players. And in this context I see my work and the context of our Create Your Own Future event we are currently planning with Cookies’n’Code.

A nifty e-commerce trick for crafts people

Susanne, a friend of mine has a startup called Blomming which might solve some of your problems with e-commerce. It is an end-to-end payment system via Paypal that you can embed on any website (now even on your Facebook page, though I have not tried Facebook yet). I used it to make it easier for the readers of my blog to buy my book. I did sell some (mind you, my blog has 100 visits a day, so not a lot of traffic there). This is what the embed looks like:

WikicraziaWhat I like about it is that it makes e-commerce very personal. Every time somebody makes an order, you get an email: and you can, through Blomming, send them an email like “Hey, I am the author. Thanks for your interest! You should receive the book within 3-4 days, if you don’t get it get in touch me and I will call the publisher and see what I can do.” It is a great way to build a strong vendor-customer relationship. Unsurprisingly, the (quite large) Blomming community consists mostrly of craftpersons like yourself.

They have also an online store were vendors have virtual shops, of course, but also anyone (vendors or buyers) can create collections of objects from different vendors (I like this one inspired from the Victorian age).  The software aggregates everything: all orders, whether from your blog, your Facebook, somebody else’s website or the Blomming online store, go to the same database and are managed through your dashboard. This might be the future of shopping for people like me, and the future of commerce for people like you.

Thank you Alberto!

This sounds great especially because of the personal level it has which gets away from the otherwise rather anonymous online shop interactions. I will definitely consider it!


Hello Susanne,

I really enjoyed reading this mission report and your story about your work. I also consider myself as a big fan of e-shopping! The last four years I just shop online. I find much more convenient, quick and you always find what you are looking for. You don’t need to spend any minute outside the house looking for something specific in many kilometres distance, you just click and a whole, huge mall is in front of your eyes. So I would strongly suggest you to put an online shop on your website, even jewels I always buy them online and I ve never experienced any problem…

Regarding the makerplatz, I find a very interesting idea and I think it should be going often.

I agree totally with your thoughts that people can learn anything and are able of great things! All of us we are hiding a super power… and we should help each other to reveal it!! this is what I like the most in Edgeryders :slight_smile:

Sustainable ways of concieving, making and selling our work

Hi Chris and Susanne,

I’ve reread this post with interest and made an attempt to summarise what I read as well present some questions I would like to explore further based on your conversation…The main point as I uderstood them are:

  1. Selling your own work is more difficult than working for others
  2. Switch to offering services or products more suited to smaller wallets
  3. Get your objects into selections made by others
  4. Set up your own e-commerce with Blomming
  5. Produce remix-friendly designs as possible alternative path of revenue..
  6. Produce designs for 3-d printing or laser cutting to be sold online e.g. through shapeways.
  7. Set up a platform where several open design projects with their specific high-end configurators are presented as a good approach to get the whole idea about participation in design into the public.
My questions here are
  1. what’s the overall context, the ecology of making and selling objects as a small actor right now- who’s making money and how?

  2. whether in adapting services and products offered to smaller wallets means catering to different lifestyles or just producing stuff similar to more expensive items but with cheaper materials/ lower quality?

  3. How to spread the risk of exploring new markets or business models, could crowdpowered R&D peer2peer be an alternative worth exploring? And if so how might this work/be financed?

What do you and other Edgeryders think, are the questions worth Exploring further in preparation for #LOTE?

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