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. An example is the Sake Creator at Shapeways. 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 user's 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.