Wintergatans most important video, on design philosophy and project management

Wintergatan has hit a wall with his marble machine x and learned some very important lessons on design philosophy, self management and project management. Super insightful, couldn’t help thinking of @vicious1 ! (You don’t have 11k paying patreons, but the issue of deep work vs busyness seems very relevant - for many of us, I think)


Hm, I’m quite disappointed by the comment section on youtube. (not a big suprise, really) They seem to insist on Martin keeping on with current version of MMX, when he’s been hitting his head against the wall for years with it. They just seem to want something that LOOKS COOL, not caring about the functionality of it. Well, easy for them to say who’s not building it or going to use it!

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I’ve watched the video a couple of hours ago, and find his reliance on self-help books (not the first video) and stance about form vs. function or vis versa honestly cringe worthy.
Even worse was the MTV Cribs tour of his French property, where he blatantly points out what all the Patreon money has bought him.
I think that Wintergatan must have understood by now that most people watch his videos because of the interesting design process, which would have been over soon, since version two is nearly finished. A version three would have been a harder sale, if version two had been presented as a success. Now that it’s a failure, it’s far easier to keep the donors stimulated.
Also basing big parts of his argumentation and reasoning on a 5 minute Elon Musk interview - a guy who’s infamous for talking out of his ass, posing as a pseudo genius, down playing the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations, treating his employees like trash -, sheds an even unnecessarily worse light on this video.

Haha, I appreciate your frankness!! The whole crib tour was embarrassing indeed. But I honestly find him sincere when he struggles with his focus, I can only imagine what a mess his work life must be like.

But who knows, perhaps it’s all a business guise?? The two parts that outright disappointed me was the crib and the DAO.

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For me it hits a different note.

The Machine stuff is hard. I know what it is like to get near the end of a project and realize there is a better solution. From the V1 stuff, I have learned I need to finish it so we have something to play with while I try to find time to work on the next iteration. There seems to always be a better way…after you find “A” way.

That falls right into the time management and deep work stuff for me. I listen to music while I keep myself extremely busy…and I always point out how little time I take away from this project. Although, when the house is empty I turn off the music and all the distractions, focus very intently and get real things done. The time disappears, but typically results in something fantastic.
Day to day though…just endless busywork that is easy to replicate.

I have been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to shift my time usage, and this just makes it feel more urgent. I am sure you would all prefer me to spend more time on instructions, testing, and designing, no one cares if I or someone else packs boxes.

I hope he finished the MMX to some degree, it is so close. He did have every intention of a full rebuild of a touring version anyway, why not scrap that part and just head right into number 3? He has all the toys he needs now he just needs to figure out how best to spend his time using them.

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Heck I think it would be cool to see a few videos on what the behind the scenes of a mini world tour is like from his perspective…Then back to the engineering.

I’m not saying that he isn’t sincere, but I think that this citing from self-help books and the accentuation of the struggle is part of his stick by know. I know that the struggle is real.
Just imagine how disappointed most of the people that actively helped him with the machine must be. I know that there were many who did pro bono CAD work to document the current machine. I can only imagine their disappointment.

I also think that he still gets it wrong. It’s not about making something that is pretty but weak, or well-engineered and ugly, form following function or vis versa.
I think that design is an iterative process from which both solid engineering and beauty should emerge, if that makes sense. It shouldn’t be about one aspect overweighting the other.

I have a lot of mixed feelings.

I love watching the videos for the entertainment and I have supported him (through some merch) as reciprocation. He isn’t a slave and he doesn’t owe anyone more work on a project he doesn’t think is in his best interest. It sounds to me that he thinks he would do better if he wasn’t working so hard on videos, but was working on a new iteration of the marble machine. He is convinced that direction should be simpler and that will be more likely to reach the world tour.

I don’t have to agree with any of his opinions to be happy for him to go in the direction he thinks is right.

If he spent the money I gave him in exchange for a tshirt on some weights, that is just as fair as using it to buy snacks or more marbles or cameras. Why would I care?

The loser (if you can call it that) in all of this is the youtube fans (like me). I enjoy the content so far and I have a healthy appetite for more. So I am not surprised people are upset. They would be upset if their favorite band broke up too. That’s natural and a part of life.

The self help quotes curated to describe his situation are great IMO. I have my problems with Elon, but that 5 point process is something I have been trying to explain for the last few months on my current project. I didn’t come close to explaining it that well once.

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You sound like me when I discuss theology :nerd_face: self help books are in low esteem with me, but there’s something about the modern busyness that really clouds my thinking. I usually only feel the “flow” when I interact with other people, doing counseling, supervision or teaching. On my own I feel like my mind is a wasps nest…

We all think of him as a youtuber…He seems to feel otherwise. Crisis of identity.

I love his videos but doubt I would go to a concert of his. I hope the videos don’t change too much.

If he came to red rocks, I would go. But I am willing to see just about anyone there. It’s not a stretch, it is about 5 miles away.

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I’ll admit to only watching part of the video, though I’ve enjoyed watching his YouTube stuff before. I am not a Patreon supporter.

He’s got a second dilemma. Is he a YouTube content producer first, or a musical machine designer/builder?

I often find myself thankful for my background in the not-for-profit approach to business. Every not-for-profit I’ve worked for has had a clearly stated and prominently communicated mission statement. The mission statement is your touchstone and your yardstick for measuring success. When you have a question about whether to do something or not, the first answer to look for is how does it support the stated mission. If you have to pick between two activities for which you can’t execute both, whichever furthers the mission more is the one you should choose.

It gets tricky when unexpectedly remunerative revenue streams (e.g. Patreon support from people liking the videos) conflicts with core mission (e.g. build a functional combination musical instrument and performance art piece). You find yourself asking “can I afford to threaten the incoming, but secondary to the mission, money to keep my focus on the mission?” Of course, this is my assumption of what his mission statement could be, I have no insight into his actual mission, so I don’t suggest anyone but him is qualified to make these judgements.

Generally, the mission is set in stone, but it isn’t 100% unchangeable. Smart organizations build in a process for reviewing and tuning the mission. However, since it is usually central to the reason the organization was created, wholesale redesign of the mission is rare, unless the purpose has been achieved. Then the question is, new mission for existing organization, or new organization with new mission to meet the next challenge.

For my hobby activities, my mission is to enjoy the time and build my skills. I don’t expect to make money at it, although I have had a couple of small commissions. I don’t have any problem turning down work that doesn’t feed my soul, or let me try something new, but then I don’t expect my hobby to feed my family or pay my mortgage. It’s not a “side hustle,” its how I choose to spend my leisure time.


Quick note - at the risk of vastly over simplifying, “Not-For-Profit” doesn’t mean “Expect-to-run-at-a-loss.” It means the organization/business exists in support of a particular mission, and realized profits are fed back into the organization, rather than paid as dividends to maximize shareholder value.


Martin is no kid. As a musician or a youtuber he’s an entertainer by profession.

For all of his self-admonition and reflection, he’s kept me entertained for years.

As someone who’s actually studied design, albeit more than half a century ago, I would love to remind Martin that it was Architect Louis Sullivan who was first credited with the “form follows function” mantra in the late NINETEENTH century.

One of his protégés was a bloke by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright who produiced ok work, and famously refined that philosophy":

Form follows function—that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.

The bit that Martin doesn’t yet seem to get, is that if the purpose of the machine is to make music, the its function can be best served today, by creating a machine which eliminates all those unnecessary mechanical contraptions (and marbles) and simply uses MIDI files and simple steppers to hammer the various instruments in perfect timing.


If the machine’s function is to ENTERTAIN. Then it is doing a perfectly splendid job already, and it’s failures and idiosyncrasies add to the depth of the experience.

The largest elephant in the room has yet to be addressed though - even though the machine is built to be disassembled - the weight of the components will make regular reassembly impractical or perhaps impossible without the risk of damage.

Watch this space! :smiley:

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I was watching him for a while. I thought what he was doing was pretty interesting… then it got repetitive. Too much focus on ‘perfect’ at the risk of progress. At some point decisions on MVP have to be made. It would seem like he would be ok with something only for 3 weeks later to go back and redesign it again.

I honestly never expected him to ever finish the machine.

I’ll have to go watch this video at some point.

I often wondered (when he was taking the angle grinder back to the machine) if he was worried about trading in his very good income from youtube and trading it into to the hope of income from composing/performing. That would be a hard thing to give away.

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The “form follows function” concept to me is not really about function taking first priority and aesthetics taking second priority. The way I see it is that elegance of function has its own beauty, even though it might feel strange at first. Like a parallel robot with crossed gantries is “weird” when you are used to seeing serial mechanisms with Z attached to X in turn attached to Y, but when you look beyond the superficial, the structure has its own elegance.

So in this sense elegance and function should never be in conflict, unless you have preconceived ideas of what it “should” look like and are not sufficiently open to new and weird ideas. By injecting arbitrary cosmetic constraints that are disconnected from the purity of function, then you get the requirements at cross purposes.

Which is not to say it’s easy to keep an open mind. That’s one of the hardest things.


Funny thing. I was at a conference today, for managers in my organisation. (which is quite big, especially for this region). A hot shot researcher from Sweden was holding a quite decent lecture on (hold on!) effectful versus effective leadership! (an analogue to busyness vs deeper focus) He directly quoted from the Deep Work book, among others. You can say what you want on self help nonsense, but I strongly agree with the “running around like a headless chicken” approach to doing leadership/engineering/any kind of work is not the way to go… the whole SoMe situation is pushing us all in that direction.

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One of the most dangerous things in an engineering company is a manager that feels like they need to keep busy.