Desktop Innovation – Part 1

Intro1

This is innovation.

No, really! I know what you’re saying — “it doesn’t have a touch-screen!” or “it doesn’t come from Cupertino”. True enough, but over the next few posts, I’m going to explain how something so small, non-shiny, and rather mundane is a symbol of the future of design, craftsmanship, and the emergence of a new type of innovator.

Background

When I first thought about getting a 3D printer, it wasn’t with a particular project in mind; I didn’t need to print gears for any reason, I’m not a big enough Star Wars geek to want to print a Darth Vader head. It just felt like something I needed to experience. Besides, I’ve always followed my own path and the same holds true in this case — I just wanted to make things I thought were useful and cool to me, and above all, simple.

At my day-job, we’re constantly on the bleeding-edge of technology and design, working on projects that in some cases won’t make it to market for 2-3 years if ever (markets and tastes change faster than one can imagine). We work on building complete design systems — every nuance of how a user interacts with a product, how it looks, how it feels (physically and emotionally), and how it fits in with the rest of the world. While we strive for simplicity in design, the process is really anything but. This is not a bad thing (in fact, solving these problems is what I really enjoy), but jumping into at-home 3D printing I knew I wasn’t going to be able to turn off this way of thinking.

So instead what I wanted to do was find items to design and print that were either a small piece of a larger, already-designed system, or new objects that embodied simple — little to no extra ornament, made with a single purpose, and didn’t require much, if any, assembly. These sorts of items are typically quite mundane and not exciting. I started with things around the house and dabbled in more artistic creations, learning new things with each and every print. The more I looked for things around the house that I could fix or augment with a 3D printed item, the more that process bled into locations outside my home — the office, the sidewalks on the walk to work.

All the while there was one question that kept coming up in my mind — and one that I couldn’t answer —  “what is the killer app for this machine, for having a 3D printer in my home?”

In Part 2, I’ll talk about what that thing I’m holding in my hand is and how it led me to find the answer I was looking for. Then, in Part 3, I’ll discuss how that answer is one of the most exciting prospects of our time, and what it means for the future.

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