Several years ago Neil Gershenfeld of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms coined the term personal fabrication. He was also the initiator of the FabLabs, places filled with CNC machines, laser cutters and other tools where you can go to in order to make your own unique things. Fablabs enable personal fabrication just as Shapeways does. Personal fabrication revolves around the idea that you will get access to production capacity and then design and make your very own things.
I agree completely with most of the personal fabrication idea. I personally believe that mass production does not provide for us as well as it should. Unique things, with a use case of one should outperform items that have millions of copies made for millions of people with millions of use cases. Furthermore I think that there are currently many people out there that want to design and make certain unique items. I think that allowing people to have access to production capacity is the most powerful and fundamentally interesting thing that we do at Shapeways.
But, we all know that not everyone will take the time to design. Many are stuck in the Matrix, accepting the reality that brands repeat over and over again. Many more just simply will not make an effort because they are fine with as the world is. So where my thinking recently has diverged from the idea of personal fabrication is that the goal should be to make everyone an artisan. The goal to put a desktop 3D printer on everyone's desk, the goal to get everyone to make things in Fablabs. I'd love for everyone in the world to use Shapeways or something that affords them with the same opportunities. But, will everyone want to and is everyone able to be a designer, an artisan? And most importantly should you concentrate entirely on "everyone" or just the skilled?
One thing that keeps bouncing around in my head is a blog comment that Whystler made in response to the Singer post. I was talking about the tipping point for 3D printing and his comment stated "When everyone is taught or develops a highly evolved sense of design." But, what if some don't have it? Is it not much like playing a musical instrument? Something that requires practice & dedication and for which some are more suited than others? What if no matter how easy 3D modeling applications become or how good our Creators could ever be some people just are not creative enough. What if some are unable to articulate their own needs?
To me there is a real and huge difference between: Is the ultimate goal to turn everyone into a designer? Or is it to enable anyone to get unique things?
I believe now that it might be the latter. To me, whatever tools there are, the division of labor still makes sense. If this is true than things such as the Shapeways Shops and the Co-Creation Platform and our community itself could be more indicative of the future than the "everyone is an artisan" idea. If this is true it would not point to a future of personal fabrication but rather collective fabrication. Groups of people would work together each in their specialized roles either commercially or non-commercially. The tools & interaction would be different and you would have more control over the things in your world but not "design" your world.
This whole discussion might seem a bit arcane but I do think that the difference between developing "designers & design tools" and "access to custom products" poses a huge dilemma for people designing a future where everyone can make everything.
In terms of tool design Personal Fabrication would need:
easy to use machinery, easy to use software, cheap desktop machinery, design classes & courses, widely available inputs, ubiquity etc.
Collective Fabrication would need:
interaction, strong communities, interaction tools, high end machinery & operators etc.
Personal Fabrication would point to a future where everyone is educated in design and manufacturing whereas Collective Fabrication would point to a future where everyone interacts with designers and manufacturers. What do you think?
I believe in the more immediate future, It will be custom this and custom that. Tell the designer what you want. In the slightly farther future, it will be start with a base and shape it yourself. Then in the distant future, as we the seeds start to fade, we will have a creation boom. People will be conditioned to think outside of the box that this Marketing society we live in has built.
Good you bring this up. The best way to predict anything around this topic, for me, is to look at other creative expressions and compare that to designing.
Example 1: Music. I think in the case of music, it is pretty clear that not everyone has the ability to create great music, and many people wouldn't really want to. They just want to sit back and listen to their favorite artists. The closest thing to personal fabrication here would probably be something like changing the settings on your stereo.
What has happened in recent years, is that fenomena like youtube and myspace have made it much easier for aspiring musicians to express themselves and gain an audience, without going through the (marketing-led) filter of the record companies.
I see Shapeways as a possible MySpace of design.
Example 2: Gastronomy. Most people that want to have a great meal, will go to a good restaurant, and let the chef do his or her thing; I don't think they would feel the urge to the tell the chef what to do. The personal part is in which restaurant they choose to go to, and perhaps small preferences such as wanting your steak medium rare.
And now for Shapeways.
I personally don't think everybody will want to design. The input of most people will be limited to customizable attributes, such as the text in many of the Shapeways products, colours, materials and size variations. Or perhaps, indeed, some people will feel a need for a certain product with certain specifications, and will appreciate accessible ways of finding designers to help them.
I do sincerely hope that many more people than today will turn out to be great designers, and perhaps those people will be coming from segments of the world population that we wouldn't expect it from. For this we need accesible and good infrastructure, hardware, software, and services such as Shapeways.