Tales from the Maker
Using tagging technologies to create digital makers’ marks

The Endless End
9th International European Academy of Design Conference
4th - 7th May 2011
Porto, Portugal

This paper explores the provenance of art and design objects through stories of the people who created them. It is part TOTeM (Tales of Things and Electronic Memories) [1] a £1.39M research project based around the “Internet of Things”[2]. Supported by the Digital Economy Research Councils UK, TOTeM opens up new ways of preserving people’s stories through linking objects to the Internet via “tagging” technologies such as QR codes.

QR codes are 2-dimensional barcodes, read by “scanning” the code with a phone-camera, linking to a mobile optimized website. Using www.talesofthings.com, developed by their UCL partners, researchers at the University of Dundee are working with art and design makers to “tag” their creations with stories in form of text, audio, images and video.

In this context, QR codes act as “digital makers’ marks” with the potential to hold far richer information than traditional marks. Inspiration for the object’s creation and its maker become the key focus, rather than facts about production and manufacturing. Working in a similar way to social networking sites such as flickr, users of talesofthings.com can comment and build upon stories of objects that have been tagged, with the potential to create a crowd-sourced bank of knowledge about any individual object. This provides future generations with artworks and design objects which have integrity and a traceable heritage.

Collaborating with Dundee Contemporary Arts, a pilot study is currently in place with print-based artists and curatorial staff to tag artworks with stories. These will be showcased at Christies’ Multiplied Contemporary Editions Fair[3] in London during October 2010. Implementing digital makers’ marks at an event run by one of the world’s most famous art and antique auction houses provides a context for combining design research with real world applications, and is a point of further discussion in this paper. The technology is available to makers in other media such as jewellery, textiles, painting, sculpture, woodwork and ceramics.

Drawing from historical references and practices identifying makers, this paper explores the future of tagging objects with stories at their point of inception. Discussion highlights how collecting and telling tales, enables a more human and personal element to be attached to objects, where even QR codes themselves provide a means of personal expression for the maker. Unlike traditional one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes can be personalized with logos, icons and experimental designs, providing the maker with a means of creating a strong visual identity with interactive functionality.

With a focus on the human element, this paper seeks to examine how the tradition of makers’ marks, and their association with finely crafted objects can be relocated to a digital platform which enables communication between the maker and their audience in a way that has previously not been possible with other forms of makers’ marks.


[1] University of Dundee, Edinburgh College of Art, Brunel University, University College London (UCL), University of Salford


[2] Used to describe the use of tagging technologies to track physical objects in the real world. Eg:Oyster Cards in the London Underground .


[3] http://www.multipliedartfair.com/index.aspx