DIY is not so threatening.

Highlights from the IDSA 2010 Conference

The Industrial Design Society of America held it’s annual conference in Portland last week. I had the great fortune to present Ponoko’s response to “DIY: Threat or Opportunity”. Of course we love DIY here at Ponoko and we strive to bring powerful manufacturing technologies to people of all making abilities. We believe if you minimise the barrier to making your ideas real then all sorts of amazing projects will be produced that might not have been otherwise. We see these show up in the Showroom all the time!

I also think DIY and making are at the very core of being a designer. The workshop is where we learn about the properties of materials, the abilities of tools and how to creatively engage both to make awesome stuff. The nature of the tools might be changing, getting more digital and “hands off”, but the experiential nature of making stuff is just as important as it was 100 years ago.

Some highlights in no particular order:

Chad Jennings from Blurb presented his interpretation of the DIY revolution as a 3 phase development. 1: Mass customization (Nike iD) 2: People Powered Products (Moo, Blurb, Ponoko, Shapeways), 3: Towards people powered businesses. Blurb allows people to publish their own books with the same quality as mass published books and that has allowed individuals to compete with the big publishers. He also highlighted the power of your social networks when trying to sell your products. Someone who posts their Blurb book to Facebook through a widget experiences a 300% increase in page views and a 80% increase in sales. He suggested goal for making a living was get 1000 fans who love what you do so much they will spend $100 a year on your products. Sounds easy, right?

Jay Rogers talked us through how Local Motors is co-creating unique cars. Designers submit their concepts and a voting system decides which cars are then developed (open and collectively) and built by Local Motors. He explained how they are building flexible manufacturing facilities close to the customers that want to buy them as this makes more sense than shipping large objects around the world (sound familiar?). It was also interesting to see how they combine custom parts with some off the shelf components (like engines and lights) to reduce the price of the end product, keeping it realistic. The coolest thing about Local Motors is that it gives designers, who may never have otherwise had a chance, to design cool cars with a chance of production.

Tine Latein provided us with a personal insight in the process of designing, manufacturing and market her awesome 3D printed Einzeller necklace. The design and manufacture was the ‘easy’ part for Tine and the marketing was where it got hard. The traditional route was what worked for this product. Combining traditional press articles with the sales and distribution network of a local gallery proved to be the best option. The gallery also understood the manufacturing story really well and were able to pass this to the customers. I think is an important point to note; if customers understand how something is made, from the designers story to the manufacturing, they are more likely to get involved on a personal level and spend the money. Even better if you are manufacturing with a rad new technology like SLM (selective laser melting).

Martin Van Tilburg walked us through the design and development of the Toideloi Stackhouse, a modular kid’s playhouse. Frustrated with not being able to make stuff well by hand, Martijn bought a small Shopbot router to aid in the development of the playhouse. What was interesting to note here is that having direct access to the machine (desktop manufacturing anyone?) allows you a lot better understanding of the process and quicker development time. The trouble he faces now is finding a manufacturer who can produce the same quality on a larger scale.

Ben Hughes from Central Saint Martins College in London provided the only counter point (sort of, that I saw anyway) to the view that DIY was an opportunity. He claimed the Reprap DIY 3D printer was like a blunt tool to his students. Digital manufacturing machines are tools, yes, but blunt tools? That depends on how you use it. A tool is only going to be as good as the person controlling it, be it a hammer and chisel, 6 axis CNC machine or a 3D printer. Sure there are some limits to what the DIY 3D printers can make right now but it is only a matter of time before that gets better and people start to push the design possibilities. He was surprised that 80% of the things on Thingiverse are parts for the machine itself and not more people sharing other (design) objects. The analogy we like to make is that DIY 3D printers are where personal computers were in the 70’s. They were still in the garage and in the hands of engineers. There is development needed to get them to the same easy to use level that computers were at when they became mainstream. The open source DIY 3D printer community is working together (though geographically separated) to continually improve the tech to make it easier for the next generation of users to get onboard and make cool stuff.

All in all it was an inspirational and fun week. Thanks to IDSA and Ziba for hosting a great event.

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3 Responses to “DIY is not so threatening.”

  1. Kristen Turner Says:

    Really good read. Thanks.

  2. Dan Says:

    Thanks Kristen! Glad you liked it.

  3. duann Says:

    Nice round up.