23Jan08 by Matt Sinclair
Following on from my previous post regarding consumers designing their own products, one of the first problems is obviously how consumers will do this. It’s likely that the pioneers will be those who aren’t intimidated by the effort it requires to obtain and then master a 3D CAD package. But given the steep learning curve and the frustrations even experienced designers sometimes encounter when working in CAD, it’s unlikely that any more than a small minority of non-professional designers will be willing to invest the time it takes to become a proficient 3D surfacer.
So starting from the standpoint that helping consumers to design their own products is a worthwhile aim, it becomes important to look at the kind of tools which will enable this. Part of my research will look at developments in CAD software – Google SketchUp, Cosmic Blobs, Teddy etc – and ask whether it will ever be possible to produce stylish products using such ‘simple’ tools. But I also want to look at other ways that consumers might be empowered to design products, ways which don’t necessarily imitate the processes that professional industrial designers currently use.
I’ve known about GenoForm, a software package from Genometri, for some time now, since a discussion on Core 77. For the most part it has been presented as a tool for industrial designers, one which allows them to explore design variations, though I think it’s fair to say the reaction on Core 77 was mixed. The main argument against seems to be that generating and filtering design variations is an activity that designers do intuitively, and that GenoForm is a ‘brute force’ method, rather than a creative method, of arriving at the best solution. Nonetheless, it seems to me that an iterative design tool may be valuable to those consumers who lack the skills to design their own product from scratch.
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POSTED IN: 04 New Design Processes, 05 Enabling End User Design, 2 Comments
20Jan08 by Matt Sinclair
One of the basic assumptions of my PhD’s hypothesis is that as rapid manufacturing technologies (by which I mean, primarily, 3D printers) become more affordable, and as the quality of parts they produce approaches that of mass manufacturing technologies, consumers will want to start using them. They’ll begin by taking products apart and making their own plastic covers, then sharing or selling the files so that others can recreate their designs. Part of my research is likely to look at what position manufacturers and brands take towards this consumer enthusiasm – do they embrace it or do they try to stamp it out. But assuming that at least some companies are enlightened enough to take the first position, another significant question is how consumers will actually begin to design their own products.
According to Alison Black of the UK Design Council,
“The central premise of user-centred design is that the best designed products and services result from understanding the needs of the people who will use them”
Rather than relying on market research or simply gut feeling, a user-centred design approach requires the designer to engage directly with the consumer, interviewing them about their specific requirements and observing them in situations where a proposed product would likely be used. Other designers have taken this even further, advocating the inclusion of users in the design process, critiquing designs and adding ideas of their own in a sub-category of user-centred design often referred to as consumer co-design.
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POSTED IN: 03 User Centred Design, 05 Enabling End User Design, 1 Comment
07Jan08 by Matt Sinclair
Trendwatching.com is a research network which aims to spot emerging trends worldwide. Along with its sister network Springwise, it’s one of my favourite sources of what’s-going-on information, mainly because unlike most trend research agencies it gives most of it’s findings away for free. Today I saw they have published their annual report of important trends for the coming year, one of which is ‘Make it Yourself,’ or MIY.
The report itself doesn’t contain that much new information, highlighting Ponoko, Fab Lab BCN (the Barcelona manifestation of Neil Gershenfeld’s Fab Lab), and Front’s Sketch Furniture as evidence of the trend having gone mainstream,
“with millions of consumers uploading their creative endeavors online, and tens of millions of others enjoying the fruits of their creativity”
The end quote is interesting though:
“we’re not saying every consumer is going to design and manufacture his or her own furniture or appliances. Rather, MIY is yet another piece of the participation puzzle: enabling those consumers who feel like it to call the shots, bypassing traditional players.”
I’ve read some research papers which suggest what kind of consumers are interested in customising or designing their own products, but I’ve not yet come across any data which quantifies these consumers. One of the most interesting things about Ponoko is that it allows consumers to not only design but also sell products, such that consumers who perhaps do not have the creative skills to design their own products can nonetheless support those who do. Most interesting of all though, in my opinion, is the Threadless community, where consumers similarly limited in skills are often invited to comment and make suggestions as to how a design might be improved.
POSTED IN: 03 User Centred Design, 1 Comment
05Jan08 by Matt Sinclair
Yesterday I took the first step in a project that I’ve been thinking about for a year or so now, which is to custom build a bike. Although this won’t strictly be part of my PhD, I’m hoping the process will tell me a lot about the differences between bespoke design and mass customisation, with the advantage of course of ending up with a really nice (and unique) machine at the end of it.
Whilst most of the parts will be standard or mass customised components, the frame will be hand-built. It’s being made by Mercian Cycles in Derby, and yesterday I met with John Eley, who went through my requirements, measured me up, and explained the options I was unsure about (such as the difference in ride characteristics between straight and curved forks). One of the things that interests me about this project is how much I’m required to learn in order to make the right decisions – on a personal level it interests me because I love bikes and cycling, but in terms of my research I hope to find out how a consumer’s level of expertise might dictate the customisation experience they are offered.
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POSTED IN: 03 User Centred Design, 05 Enabling End User Design, No Comments