Makerball is a do-it-yourself pinball machine developed by ZHdK student Alain Schibli as part of his Master’s in Design. It is a contemporary, quiet, and reduced alternative to traditional machines, which use noise, light, and various effects to attract attention. Makerball makesrolling the ball a meditative experience. The board is empty at the beginning and is fitted individually with the desired elements.


Frederic Poppenhäger: How did you come up with the idea of building an analogital, i.e., semi-analog, semi-digital do-it-yourself pinball machine?
Alain Schibli: When I was a teenager, every bar had a pinball machine. They were shining icons of pop culture with a rebellious image. Today, things have changed: soaring rents and digital games are pushing the once so cool pinball machine out of everyday life. In this respect, Makerball should be understood as a contemporary redesign: reduced, simple, and made of wood. Thanks to the microcontroller, smartphone, and the app, players don’t have to forsake the digital points collector.

What do you want to achieve with Makerball?
Makerball has started to rehabilitate the game’s bad reputation. It also makes the case for playing, for delving into a world that has little to do with everyday life. Game theorist Johann Huizinga describes this as the “Magic Circle,” in which everyday reality is unimportant.

What are the next steps after your successful crowdfunding campaign?
At the moment I’m overseeing production of the first series, consisting of a hundred machines. This is exciting new territory, as it has nothing to do with my usual design work. I want to produce locally as far as possible, but still need to come up with an affordable price. Initially, the machines will be sold primarily through the specially created webshop.

What kind of support did you get at ZHdK?
I got honest and helpful feedback from my lecturers and mentors, which always took me a step forward. Our well-organised programme meant we could work in a structured way. Studying at ZHdK helped me develop a ready-to-market product.

Alain Schibli completed a Master’s degree in Design with a focus on trends. He calls himself a tinkerer or do-it-yourselfer. During his studies at ZHdK, he appreciated working with his hands and producing things himself.
Frederic Poppenhäger is responsible for communications at ZHdK’s Department of Design and teaches Industrial Design.
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