Here at Shapeways, we’re changing how products are made and by whom. We have makers and designers from all over the world in our community, some of whom are making their first product and others who have been professional product designers for their whole lives. They’re creating everything from jewelry to rocket ships, GoPro accessories to chess sets. No matter what they’re making, though, we know how involved the creative process can be. Taking a great idea and making it real takes a lot of hard work and iteration before amazing products come to life.
With 3D printing, designers are not alone in the creative process. They don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get the form and function just right, and they don’t have to wait to go to market until they’ve undergone extensive testing. With the support of their friends and fans, they can share their products with the world and get the feedback they need — wherever they are in the product development process. We’re committed to helping you create great products, by embracing iteration and encouraging your customers to actively participate in earlier stages of product development. Step one is setting the right expectations, and step two is opening up the conversation around products.
Today, we are excited to give our community and particularly Shop Owners a sneak peek into two new ways to get support and feedback on early stage products that we’ll release later this summer: First to Try and Beta.
Shop Owners, you can see all of the new tools on your model edit page today and preview what your products will look like when this is released to shoppers later in the summer.
Design is becoming far more collaborative across companies big and small, and we’ve already seen thousands of examples on Shapeways in which designers and customers work together to tweak products and make them more personal. We want to make it easier for Shapeways Shop Owners to tap into this trend and develop deeper, ongoing connections with their customers.
The first way we’re fueling this kind of collaboration is called Beta. Products in Beta are in active development and are being improved upon through product iteration. As a Shop Owner, you will be able to invite your friends, fans, and communities to support you in the product development process and get feedback to improve the design. You can ask for feedback on how it fits, whether they like the design, or anything else you need to get your product over the finish line. More and more, people want to be a part of the creative process — we’re excited to help open up the doors with you.
How will this work?
The purchase area on your product page will prominently announce that this product is in Beta, and has space for you to briefly explain to customers your goals and what you’re looking for in the Beta testing. You can opt to make your product a Beta Product or to move it out of Beta at any time.
By positioning your product in Beta, you will have a private comment stream to collaborate with your customers and solicit their feedback. We see a lot of this happening in comment streams today on Shapeways, but we also want a private place to encourage honest feedback and collaboration on products. Elaborate on your goals, ask specific questions, and keep customers up to date on the progress of your product and new versions you’re working on. We’ll be encouraging customers who buy a product in Beta to come back here after they receive their product to share photos and let you know what they think.
3D printing a model in every material finish you’d like to offer for sale can be quite expensive. We’re working hard to reduce the barriers to entry and we don’t ever want to make you 3D print a model in every finish yourself unless you prefer to. However, because 3D printing is still new, some customers don’t understand the risks subtleties involved with 3D printing and can be disappointed if their product doesn’t turn out the way they were expecting — or especially disappointed if it can’t be printed at all.
As a part of our efforts to increase transparency about the manufacturing process with designers, including the Print Success Rate,
we are also going to provide more information to shoppers by showing the “First To Try” label on any product that hasn’t been printed before in that material. This helps shoppers understand our level of confidence that we can successfully create the product that they are looking to buy.
How does this work?
When your product has First To Try materials enabled, your customers will see a different set of choices on your product page. We’re also investing in beautiful material renders that match the color and finish of all of our materials, so you can show a shopper exactly what the product will look like, while also helping them understand that they are one of the first to 3D print it in that material and are seeing a computer-generated render, not a photo.
Once you or your customers have successfully printed your product in each material you’re offering for sale, the First To Try label won’t apply any longer. There are a few ways to progress through First To Try:
- You can enlist your friends, fans and community to buy your product and share a photo, which will be important for your long term product success
- You can print the product in your preferred materials and ensure you meet the Print Success Rate before you launch your product
- You can disable the materials that haven’t been successfully printed before
Beta vs First To Try
When you are really hoping to get feedback on your product — from fit to form to function and everything in between — we recommend using Beta. It’s a great way to solicit feedback and build a community around your products and ideas.
If you’ve already tested your product and are trying to understand whether you product can be successfully made in a given material, First To Try is your best bet. It sets the right expectations for your customers and helps you enlist support.
The Future of Product Development at Shapeways
With a process as new and rapidly-changing as 3D printing, expectation setting is critical. But we know there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We’ll continue to build more tools to help you solicit support from the community and help them understand how the process works. We’re really excited about these new additions to our marketplace, and would love for you to join the discussion here in comments and the forum to let us know what you think!