I finished off a project over the weekend for a magazine and also had a message from a budding builder who wanted to create their own version of the EL wire sign created for HackSpace. This got me thinking about the value of a project over a kit.
Kit: A set of articles or equipment needed for a specific purpose.
Project: An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.
Kits typically come with detailed step by step instructions and there’s an expectation that if you follow the instructions to the letter then you’ll end up with something looking exactly like that on the box.
Projects are that high level direction of where you need to go and perhaps what skills and techniques you should use. But without the detail found in the kit approach.
My main objective with any of the magazine articles is to inspire people to experiment and try their own projects. For this reason, I’ll often go out my way to use a technique or material I’ve not used before. If I’m expecting others to try something new it helps if I’ve done the same. For similar reasons, my projects are often right on the edge of my capabilities to give something that’s impressive to see.
Because I’m learning on the project it means I make a few mistakes along the way. This doesn’t help at all with meeting my deadlines but it does mean that I can add advice and recommendations into the articles. This can also come from an experience that was not quite so fresh.
As well as learning CAD and 3D printing as mentioned in the last article I’ve also been learning PCB design and have produced my second ever outsourced PCB, a simple breakout board. Just looking at it now, I can see at least 2 improvements that could be made. Let me know in the comments if you can spot them.
Because I am learning on a project, that helps me appreciate the principles and concepts that are important. Also, the project approach means that if someone reading the article has deep knowledge in one area but not another then they can feel free to cross-reference other sources for a more detailed explanation.
As mentioned above a kit is designed to give exactly the same results each time. I know in the railway and modelling world there’s a whole area of “kit bashing” where you take a kit and produce something different from it. That seems to be a bit less common in electronics.
A project, on the other hand, is not as clearly defined. The ideas and techniques can be broken apart and re-used in different ways. For example, I’ve already had thoughts about extending the above breakout board to incorporate some kind of power regulator and/or battery charger.
Project vs Kit?
So what do you think? Is a project approach a more valuable learning exercise than building a kit?