New trends in product design

Three new trends in product design show how the process of creating new products is shifting. As the previous CAD revolution (Computer Aided Design – drawing and 3D modelling) and CNC (Computer Numerical Control – computer controlled machining) quickened and globalised product development, and Chinese manufacturing met that capacity with fast and flexible manufacturing; new products rain down on us. Big design even with shifts towards user centred design and a host of other cool philosophy’s is still a relatively centralised and expensive machine.

Enter: crowd funding, desk-top 3D printing, and a resurgence of craftsmanship.

Crowd funding via Kickstarter, here a project is posted on the site with and amount required and a time line. People pledge parts of the total (set by the project initiator with various rewards / incentives). If the full amount is reached in the set period the funding goes to the project. If it doesn’t reach its goal in time the project is cancelled. This makes funding accessible and also tests the idea – if people like it it will get funded. It is often for relatively small amounts and can be instigated by one person, any person with a good idea. This is not product design going through concept focus groups and company processes (financial risk / return), it is quick and light. See the great article on core77 by Don Lehman and also follow the link there to his Kicksatrer project – the stylus tips in the image right.

3D printing is now available to anyone and the price is accessible, have a look at Makerbot. It’s like the revolution of desk-top printing. This has a crowdsource feel to it with Makerbots thingiverse where people share their 3D files for objects. Its seems a bit geeky yet, a community of enthusiasts is evolving the whole thing around the core business. There are fun but inconsequential things like pan pipes, but with this kind of experimentation expect it to become more sophisticated driven by open-source motivation and engagement. Rapid prototyping used to be available only to high end product development… now a bunch of hackers are playing with it.

Maker is probably a better word than craftsmanship as individuals and businesses like usethings are reclaiming design and making from the global cornucopia with its associated problems. As the barriers of funding and technology become democratised anyone can get a product up and running. This can lead to local manufacturing with sustainability in mind like Don’s stylus tips. Even the skills are shared, with co-ops setting up machining workshops or groups of people getting together to fix things from bikes to smart phones either locally or on the internet.

The overall sense is reclaiming and engaging in production, making it relevant – don’t want toxic chemicals in your things, want to know its made with good working conditions or evenĀ  fabricators in your area, want something culturally relevant… a lot of people are moving on this now and this will change our relationship with stuff. It’s kind of internet supercharged cottage industry where businesses and ideas can flow.

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