Category Archives: Online Creation

Personalization Is More Customization

ONE OF THE MOST touted use case for 3D printing is personalization. Now personalization can mean many things and you see different executions of the personalization vision on the internet. For example the Statement Vase or MixeeMe. At the core, personalization enables the user modify a base design to fit to their personal taste. This sounds fantastic and can open a new world where people design their own products within a set of constraints. But when you talk to people about it, they are only mildly interested. The question is why that is?

design your own dress at Constrvct

design your own dress at Constrvct

In essence I think is that most people are not really interested in personalization. There are many reasons why people detract from personalization products. There is fear about their own capabilities and if they are capable of making a desirable product on their own. Another reason is that they lack inspiration. But the major reason is I think is that people are just not that interested to make their own products. In 99% of cases people just buy something off the shelve and they are happy with that. Why bother changing the design at all? Is it not the role of a product designer / company / brand to provide you with the best solution?

If you turn the question around and give people an off the shelve product they are interested in and you ask the question “Are you satisfied with this product?” “Would you like to change anything to the design of the product?”. Then you get interesting responses like I do not like the color or the material. Or they would like the item to be smaller or bigger. And here lies the opportunity. People are not that into personalization but more into customization. They would like to modify some generic features of the product to make it better fit their specific requirements.

A great example to me is clothes. I rather not design my own clothes. I am not even into designing a custom pattern or changing the color. But I am interested in my EXACT size. If you are big like me you always run into the issue that you are size is out. Or what happened to me the other day is that some clothing brand decided to make XXL to be XL. I ended up with a bunch of clothes I could return.

I can think of many examples where customization would make sense and would appeal to a consumer. It is just not the same as personalization. It is customization. Now I know there are many examples of successful and very useful personalization products on the internet. I particularly like Constrvct from Continuum Fashion [http://www.constrvct.com]. But I yet have to meet the person who is not a cloth (aspiring) cloth designer who made the majority clothes themselves. For most people it is just not worth it and it only make sense when it is very special and appealing.

The Infinite Tail

SOME TIME AGO, I attended a partner meeting at a VC. At some point during the meeting one of the partners proclaimed that YouTube is full of useless and pointless content which nobody really cared about. I will never forget this rant. He did not understand the power of the internet and it’s distribution mechanism.

Chris Anderson introduced the term “Long Tail” in an article in Wired magazine in 2004. Later in 2006 he wrote a book about it called “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More“. In short the long tail is a theory where companies increase their relevancy by offering large numbers of products even though they sell only limited number of items per product. This became possible mainly because of the internet as a distribution mechanism. The cost of stocking and distribution costs have gone down significantly because of it. Examples of companies employing this strategy are Amazon and Netflix.

The world has changed since 2004. The long tail has been successfully employed by a number of companies, but the tail is getting longer. Way longer. Self-publishing and online creation have changed that. The internet has moved beyond making available what existed or created outside the internet. The internet has become the place of creation itself. YouTube is a good, early example of that. Self-publishing of videos have inspired and entertained millions of people and is still doing that today.

But self-publishing is beyond many of the frivolous videos on YouTube. Services like Lulu.com have over 1 million creators who published millions of books. Using Amazon’s CreateSpace service creators can distribute their book, music and movies to Amazon’s worldwide audience.

Since a couple of years, online creation and self-publishing of products became possible using services like Thingiverse and Shapeways. On demand manufacturing made possible using 3D printing, has moved self-publishing beyond the realm of media and into the world of physical goods. These services still have not reached their full potential and others will join this segment in the coming years, but the change is significant.

The basis of the theory of The Long Tail is underpinned by the fact that the internet lowered distribution costs, and thereby making it possible to offer large inventories to customers. But the rise of self-publishing has changed the distribution mechanism itself. The net effect is that the tail is getting longer each day. It never gets shorter, and for that reason, I would like to rename it to The Infinite Tail.

Products will never go out of stock, and their availability is infinite. Digital shelf costs are low, and they go down each day. The internet has made it possible to distribute individual creations to large audiences. For each creation, there is a potential market – sometimes as small as 1. But with new production technology and distribution mechanisms, the cost of producing and distributing a single item is not prohibitive anymore. That is what I call The Infinite Tail.

Goodbye Shapeways!

ALL GOOD THINGS come to an end. The time has come for me to leave Shapeways and start to work on new projects and ideas. The last 5 years at Shapeways have been exciting and exhilarating. We achieved so much. The company has grown from an idea to multinational with 4 offices worldwide and over 50 employees. Shapeways has closed two rounds of funding and is the market leader in her segment.

I can still remember in the early days while building up the upload-to-print systems and testing 3D printing, we had serious challenges to find and create good test sets of 3D models. 3D models which were fit for 3D printing and at the same time posed some challenges for 3D printers and the 3D printing process. Now Shapeways has printed over 750.000 3D models in 2011 alone. It is a staggering number.

Shapeways is more than a company. It is the designers who make Shapeways what it is. I have met so many of you. It was my privilege to work with all of you. It is your inspiring designs which makes building something like Shapeways so fulfilling. I will keep following all of you. Please keep surprising me!

I trust in the awesome team I leave behind, that they can grow and mature Shapeways, to take it into new directions and make social fabrication part of society and culture. I look back on my days at Shapeways with fondness. Some very good memories have been made. I am sure new milestones will be reached this year and the years beyond. I am going to make my own new memories. Good luck to Shapeways and the team!

This post is also posted on shapeways.com

100-10-1 of Personal Fabrication

FRED WILSON – VC Union Square Ventures – often recites his rule of thumb of social internet services. It is the 100-10-1 rule. He sees with social internet services that on average 100% of users consume, 10% of users interact and 1% of users actually create.

So how does this apply to Personal Fabrication? As a social service, there are many options for Personal Fabrication. I am thinking of:

  • sharing of designs between designers
  • making designs available for fabrication to others
  • cooperative design of products between designers and users
  • product configurators made by designers for users
  • online creation tools for users which interact with all the above

All these options can make personal fabrication a social activity. When you apply the 100-10-1 rule of thumb, the opportunities for scaling such a service become immediately clear. As far as I know there are no exact figures available on how many 3D modelers / product designers there are in the world. But let’s assume there are 5 million of them. That would turn social fabrication into a 500M users opportunity. That is Facebook and Google territory. Just imagine 50M users interacting on personal fabrication and the effects it can have on product design and how we design products. This is a very significant opportunity. Of course, the big caveat is that not all 3D modelers / product designers are interested in social fabrication. Maybe only 10% or less. That still leaves a 50M opportunity.

I do wonder what will happen to this ratio. I think it will change over time. I have no data available how this ratio looks like per demographic, but I can imagine that young people are much more engaged to create and interact than older generations. Now when they get older, start their careers and families, I can imagine that some of them drop off. But in general I expect that the creators and interactors groups will become a larger portion of the total users.

Fit For Purpose and Personalized Products

AN INTERESTING ASPECT of design in relation to personal fabrication and customized design is fit for purpose. How do you determine a product is good enough for its intended purpose? And who is responsible that a product you buy is fit for the purpose you intended?

With fit to purpose, I mean that a design properly supports the intended function it was designed for. For example, a necklace should not break while wearing it, or a coffee cup should not break in the dishwasher. Manufacturing companies spent a lot of time and effort to test their products before they are manufactured and shipped to their customers. For them, it is risk mitigation to avoid returns and warranty issues down the line. No mass-producing manufacturer wants to risk losing large volume batches of products.

With personal fabrication and online creation, the relationship between designer, manufacturer and the customer is changing. Customers can make or manipulate their own designs and choose the materials they want to use for the fabrication of their product. But they are no experts. How do you make sure that their designs are fit for purpose? And how about designs made and sold by hobbyists or semi-professionals? Who is responsible when there is a problem?

When personal fabrication becomes more common place than product liability issues like fit for purpose can become a problem, as well. Liabilities are often shared in the supply chain, but that only makes sense when the liabilities are known. With personalized fabrication and customized design, the liabilities are unknown. How are we going to handle that?

A lot of product categories have mandatory regulations applied to them for instance children’s toys. But when you think about personal fabrication or customization, it is impossible to comply with those regulations when you do not control the design. Do these regulations need to be adapted?

I think there are lots of questions still to be answered in the areas of product liability, product regulations and fit for purpose in general. It is one of those essential preconditions to be tackled for personal fabrication and customized production to grow. There has not been a lot of traction around these topics yet, and I hope – no, expect – that will change soon. It is the reason for me to bring it up (again).

Key Factors of Online Creation for 3D Printing

THE LAST couple of posts, I wrote about several factors, which I consider as key success factors for online creation in the context of 3D printing. This post is a summary of these posts.

To sum up I wrote about:

Here is how I would define each of these factors:

Immediate Context

People want to grasp immediately the context on how a particular concept applies to them when they use or see a product for the first time. They need to be able to understand how to use it and what they can do with it. Even when it is only at a superficial level. It needs to answer questions like “What does it mean for me?” and “How would I use it?”. When a product (or service) has these attributes, it provides immediate context.

Frictionless Creation

Frictionless creation means that the level of effort to create is extremely low to (preferably) non-existent. A user who visits an internet service for the first time can immediately participate in the creation process if he wishes. The act of creation – and many times, interaction – is extremely simple. Services like Facebook and Twitter are excellent examples of frictionless creation. They user does not need a tutorial or watch a video to participate.

Open-ended Creation

Open-ended creation allows the user to create, but does not limit him in either form and/or function in the creation process. Open-ended creation allows for more elaborate, creative expressions compared to closed-ended creation.
An example is twitter. People use it for conversations, news notifications or link sharing. Twitter does not restrict the use cases and limits only the form. Not the function. You see a lot of creative expressions based on Twitter because of that design decision. It allowed the platform for creation to become greater than its creators could have foreseen.

Product Relevancy

There are three factors, which makes a product relevant in the context of 3D printing:

  1. Design (form and function) – The product has an intended use, and it should support that in an optimal way. The form itself should be appealing to the target audience.
  2. Material(s) – Material should be applicable for the design and support the intended function of the product. Often it needs to look and feel good. But also longevity, resistance to outside influences and sturdiness are important requirements.
  3. Price – Price is a fluid definition with regard to relevancy. For instance a higher price for a particular product, can make it more relevant. The same applies the other way around. In the end, the price should be in line with expectations of the target customers.

All three product relevancy factors work together as a system. I mean with that better materials lead to higher price, which in turn can lower the product relevancy. It is a balancing act.

The combination of all four factors will create the killer application for 3D printing. At least, that is my current line of thinking. The advancement of 3D printing  technology combined new novel approaches to create products online have to proof this in the coming years. I am sure we will get there. Somehow.

Open-ended vs Closed-ended Online Creation

IN THE last couple of posts on online creation, I wrote about frictionless creation, product relevancy and immediate context. I think all these factors are important to make online creation successful. In this last post of the series, I am writing about open-ended and closed-ended creation.

Let me explain what I mean with Open-ended and Closed-ended Online Creation. Closed-ended is online creation within limits, and the end goal or purpose of creating is clear. As a user, you can configure or modify but cannot fundamentally change the form and function of what the creation should be. Perfect examples are product configurators. It gives you freedom to express, but the end result keeps – more or less – the same form and function.

Open-ended creation allows you to create but does not limit either form and/or function. It is up to the user to determine what it shall be. Example is twitter. People use it for conversations, news notifications or link sharing. Twitter does not restrict the use cases and limits only the form. Not the function. You see a lot of creative expressions based on Twitter because of that design decision. It allowed the platform for creation to become greater than its creators could have foreseen.

Obviously, open-ended creation allows for more elaborate, creative expressions. The key to success though is to either limit the form or function to make it understandable and doable from a users’ perspective.

Designing content for 3D printing today is hard because of this. There are two options to create content; 3D design software and product configurators. 3D design software offers no limits, but adds lots of friction due to the complexity and steep learning curve. Or we have product configurators, which are only mildly successful because they limit too much – both form and function at the same time.

An interesting concept is Mineways in this regard. It is an extremely simple 3D editor which is open-ended in form and function. Another one, which comes to mind, is TinkerCAD, though I still feel it does not give enough context to make me excited.

The key for success for 3d printing is easy creation and modification of designs. My dream is to enable frictionless creation combined with strong open-ended abilities for expressing creativity. I hope we can get there!

Immediate Context & Online Creation

IN THE last couple of weeks, I wrote about Online Creation. Things I am thinking about are, what makes a product relevant? What motivates people to create online? One of the striking aspects of creation is that when you give people a blank canvas, they have no inspiration on what to create. This is called the Blank Canvas Syndrome.

I think one of the major barriers to overcome for Personal Fabrication & 3D Printing for home users is solving the Blank Canvas Syndrome.

An important aspect of the online creation process is immediate context. People need to immediately grasp the context on how a particular concept applies to them. They need to be able to understand how to use it and what they can do with it. Even when it is only at a superficial level.

What does it mean for me?
How would I use it?

When looking at creation for 3D printing, there is, for example, TinkerCAD. TinkerCAD is an awesome 3D online creation tool. It is easy to use and simple to understand. But if you show it to somebody, they do know what to do with it. It is missing immediate context. The same applies to 3D printers as a whole. If you ask, they do not know.

If you look at Twitter and Facebook, it is immediately clear what the context is and how it would apply to the user. I regard Twitter and Facebook also as online creation services. I think their success is very much related to this.

If you look at 3D printing of products, one of the latest popular successes was printing of your Minecraft creations. Eric Haines wrote a software application to export Minecraft models and save them as readily  3D printable files. The power of this concept is that there is no need to explain the proposition to the users. It generated immediate excitement among the Minecraft community.

Now I do not want to say that Minecraft is the ultimate 3D printing proposition – far from it – but it does show that easy to understand concepts work way better than more free-form solutions. At least for the general public. I hope we see more examples popping up in the coming year, and I would love to hear ideas on how to improve immediate context for 3D printing.

Product Relevancy for 3D Printing

ON A regular basis, I hear people telling me that they do not know what to make with a 3D printer. Or that do not see the point of 3D printing or personal fabrication. In some cases, they take a look at the products available at Shapeways and do not find anything that interests them. They find it to be expensive or geeky or uninteresting. But it all boils down to relevancy! There is a lot of talk about the killer application for 3D printing. But how you look at it, it comes down to making things – making products. The challenge for 3D printing is to what you can make relevant. So what makes a product relevant? I see three factors, which makes a product relevant in the context of 3D printing:

  1. Design (form and function)
  2. Material(s)
  3. Price

Design
The design is all about form and function. The product has an intended use, and it should support that in an optimal way. The form itself should be appealing to the target audience.

Material
Material should be applicable for the design and support the intended function of the product. Often it needs to look and feel good. But also longevity, resistance to outside influences and sturdiness are important requirements.

Price
Price is a fluid definition with regard to relevancy. For instance a higher price for a particular product, can make it more relevant. The same applies the other way around. If it is too expensive, than it is simply not worth it, and it will not sell. Obviously price should cover cost and margin. In the end, the price should be in line with expectations of the target customers.

All three factors work together as a system. I mean with that better materials lead to higher price, which in turn can lower the product relevancy. It is a balancing act.

For example, you find a vase and want to have it made. The material is glazed ceramics. It measures 5x5x12 inches. Sounds good, right? If I tell you, the price ia $300 and delivery takes 3 weeks. Still interested? Another example you find a beautiful lamp shade. It costs $350, but it is absolute you stunning. But then you read that you have to use a LED or other low temperature bulb. Are you still willing to pay $350 for that?

3D printing is quite popular in high-end design. High-end design is less sensitive to cost. Larger pieces are expensive but high-end design can live with that. They also have margin to spare on post-finishing the products to improve the look and feel of the material, as well.

With Shapeways, we try to lower the barrier of entry for relevant products custom made using 3D printing. By applying mass-production know-how, and adapting it to unique one-off production, we are reducing the cost of 3D printing. We also invest in offering of post-finishing options to improve the look and feel of 3D printed products. It is our continuing quest to raise the relevancy of our product portfolio. It is our goal to enable everyone to buy, make and sell cool and relevant products on Shapeways.

Lack of Frictionless Creation with 3D Printing

ONE OF the major barriers for the success of personal fabrication is the ability to create or modify 3D models on your own. The current generation of 3D design tools are not easy to use, and require a substantial amount of investment of personal time to master. For real enthusiasts and hobbyists, this is not a barrier, but for the casual user the barrier insurmountable. The casual user market is where the big opportunities are for personal fabrication. Without them, personal fabrication will never get off the ground big time.

What does it take to get somebody to create? To me the major driver is frictionless creation. Frictionless creation means that the level of effort to create is low to non-existent. Internet users are creating content on the Internet all the time. Services like Facebook and Twitter are excellent examples of frictionless creation. Those services can engage huge communities and let them create content and interact with that content. The list of features offered by those services is very limited. For users, it is easy to understand and grasp the concept offered by these services.

The concept of frictionless creation not only applies to internet services alone, but also applies to software in general.

The current generation of 3D design tools and services has a high level of friction. They are complex, expensive and have a high learning curve. A possible solution is to make very specific and easy to use applications. Examples are our Sake Creator or the site of Fluid Forms. These applications are product configurators. They are easy to use, and let the user create meaningful and quality designs. But they have very narrow and explicit use cases. The number of variations are limited and will only appeal to certain users. Inspired users will be frustrated by these applications.

Characteristics of frictionless creation:

  • extremely low barrier of entry
  • instant sense of applicability to the user
  • ability to see what others are doing to learn and be inspired
  • extremely focused set of features
  • wide range of variations & use cases to express users’ creativity

If we go back to making 3D models to drive personal fabrication, I do not think that most people will use 3D design software like we use word processors today. The opportunities lie in creating a frictionless creation platform. That will make a world of difference.

Any thoughts?