September 28, 2014

3D Printing, Changing the Game by Changing the Players

3D printing is changing the game. Rather, it is changing the players of the game. It used to be that we can bucket players into different segments—designers, shoppers, manufacturers.

With 3D printing, these buckets are starting to leak.

Going from ampersand to slash

A thick and clear line used to divide designers and consumers.

Now, the designer can invite the consumer to co-create via apps. If I customize my own little figurine, am I designing or buying? Both?

It is also now easier for the consumer to start designing. You can more find people to help you model, or follow tutorials and try out 3D modeling yourself. This thins the line between designer and buyer. You can slip from one side to the next, and back again before dinner time.

Essentially, going from talking about shifting the “designers & consumers” paradigm to “designer/consumers” paradigm. And what a change one conjunction can make. A designer/consumer may create something that they may never intend to sell—products that they are using themselves or special items for friends and families.

Trial and Error

My friends sometimes talk about software speed and hardware speed. Essentially software speed is fast. You write code, push to production (er… I mean staging first of course), and iterate based on feedback. Hardware is much slower. It takes time to get molds made, PCBs designed, and manufacture partners set up.

3D printing does not enable hardware to catch up with software speed, but it does accelerate the hardware process. You can iterate on designs more, and try out different things.

Being able to iterate isn’t just key for seasoned designers. For a new designer, this means you can (more) quickly learn through trial and error. Making a bad model to send to the production facilities isn’t as costly anymore.

Set up Shop

Stores designed by Joshua Mormann from the Noun Project

It is easier now to set up shop. In fact, there are many shops that start selling without even producing. People can post their designs on marketplaces like Etsy and Shapeways, and recently even on Amazon.

You can start smaller and start faster.

A New Breed of Professional Hobbyist

Sewing designed by Cassie McKown from the Noun Project

Because it is now more lightweight and quick, setting up shop no longer has to be a full time job. There is a full range of options between a hobbyist and a professional brand selling on these online marketplaces.

Platforms that have traditionally supported designers and sellers now have to support a wider range of entities—corporations, brands, emerging designers, hobbyists, dabblers, and all those nooks and niches in between.

This makes the world more interesting and more complicated.

So who is the “3D printing revolution” for?
This is an important question for all 3D printing companies and especially for startups in this space looking to define their core customer base.

Traditionally, marketplaces and stores might only look at big brands and well-known designers as vendors. Then customers are also in a separate bucket. Now, we also have the opportunity to work with emerging designers, hobbyists, and a wide range of partners. Some of these partner span multiple buckets. The new designers available on Amazon’s 3D printing store range from those designing full time to college engineering students designing to make extra cash for school.

With 3D printing, these buckets are spilling into one another creating a chaotic, beautiful, new type of canvas.