Fabbing: A Primer for Guerilla Design Strategies

I have been nursing this article since June 01, 2007. It was originally called “Who stole my design? A Primer for a Guerilla Design Strategy”, I felt the context just did not seem to be comprehensive enough as it covered only the creation aspect of the story. However but after many months of discussions with csven from reBang, (including a “date” for a chat in Second Life) I’ve decided to re-title this article as this more appropriately sets it down a path of an entire new and different way of thinking about design as well as hopefully be a new way of thinking for us designers in time to come.
Actually many designers know something about Fabbing but not in that context of a “Fab Lab”?. Most of us know it to be more as rapid prototyping. However it’s a lot more than that. Once in the realm of engineers and scientist, with the help of the pervasive nature of the web and miniaturization technology, it will completely turn upside down the practices and processes of how people will design/purchase/consume/manufacture things in time to come.
So what exactly is Fabbing all about? I won’t go too much into detail here as there have been many articles written about it and its strengths and weaknesses. A good written example is by Moroz over at his Fabbing focused Industrial Design Sandbox, he writes:

Eventually, it is predicted one will be able to fabricate a product in the home, just as one can print out a color document today. It’s called personal fabrication or desktop manufacturing.

Do check out his series on Personal Fabrication as its a good summary of the “Fabbing” situation to date.
Fabbing, or what I like to call the future of rapid prototyping, is the same extrapolation of how the PC you reading this article on used to be as large as an entire room or bigger! However it’s a lot more than a manufacturing machine on your desk top. It’s not just about the ease of firing up your CAD program and hitting print, it could mean that designers now have the instant flexibility to design what the customer wants with very little or no lead time. Or even better, the consumers themselves could design their own stuff as and when they require it.
So I think the all important question rolling around in your mind at this time is: if it’s predicted that it’s going to be that easy and flexible for people to make things, then how would people value and see the role of design and designers?
As I mentioned earlier, there is a good chance that Fabbing is going to turn our entire manufacturing process and chain management completely upside down. Furthermore as industrial design is implicitly linked to manufacturing I believe our design process will be affected and we should be prepared to adapt to it as well.
So therefore with the background picture clearly painted, I like to welcome you to the world of the “Guerrilla Designer”?.

Imagine a world in the not too distant future where the next Oscar winning movie will be created by a 16 year old student with his Nokia phone and people he has never met except online. Newspapers are extinct as people get their news directly from the source via blog feeds. Green homes and cars are “in vogue” and we live a life of wired minimalism. Furthermore researching on the internet by using Wikipedia has become creditable and CAD is taught along side Word processing software running on an online operating system.
Designers are not called designers anymore but Hyper-creatives. As people big and small are now creating their own products, the Hyper-creative is someone that does this full time instead of it as hobby. It’s nothing very different from today, except they are called Hyper-creatives because their advance level of creativity that allows them to generate a large amount of unique designs frequently and consistently for the followers of their niche products.
With the help of “Fabbing” machines these designs are all created as limited editions and in small volumes. Those products that are not sold are grinded up and the material recycled in other designs. In fact self-made products are so pervasive in society; users can opt to grind up their un-used products to be remade into something that is useful. Furthermore every design or project is now viewed as a business entity. Careful consideration, planning and marketing is done for each design project to ensure that the ROI (Return of Investment) is high and very likely.
Most importantly, the Hyper-creative worries very little about design protection. Not only will design patents be easy to overcome, it will also be costly and require a lot of effort to enforce especially since it will take little to reproduce a copy through a desktop manufacturing machine. In fact a Hyper-creative will rejoice to the fact that he is free! Free to move forward and create more amazing designs and now never having the need to look back.
Eventually our Hyper-creative may, after getting his fill of his ROI or after retiring a design, release the design for free as open-sourced and/or under a Creative Commons License, so that others may able to reproduce or refine it in their own Desktop Manufacturing Machines. Why not? It is only by the sharing with others will the Hyper-creative reap the benefits as well as continue to be pushed to stay ahead of the curve and be the best that they can be.
As you can see, my hypothesis goes against much of what we know about how we should manage design today. (I might actually have to start to hide from the flaming arrows now!) However I do hope you keep an open mind and think about it for a bit, because if I’m not wrong this will and should happen very soon and the more we try to protect what we hold dear the deeper the hole we dig. So be prepared!

13 Comments
  • csven

    June 5, 2007 at 1:49 am Reply

    A convert. Excellent. The only thing you missed is “Industrial Design is dead”.
    If people can manage it, they might want to read my post “Smiley Face Savvy” ( http://blog.rebang.com/?p=577 ) which shows how a business of the future might work. I’m using Wal*Mart, but it could individuals.

  • Design Translator

    June 5, 2007 at 10:34 am Reply

    What makes you think I have been otherwise? (heh-heh) Well I would not go as far as to say Industrial Design is dead. That’s really the main focus of my post. I’m saying design is not dead, but it will change into a totally different animal.
    Now I’m off to read your post, and will leave my comments if any there. I love the internet…

  • csven

    June 5, 2007 at 11:47 pm Reply

    Well, wasn’t sure you’d come fully over to the *dark side*.
    But for all intensive purposes “Industrial” design *is* dead. Even now the original role of ID has changed significantly from where it started. We used to be the people who made things look acceptable *within* the limitations of the client’s manufacturing capability. Now ID can get a client to open up to more appropriate processes. And in the future, the whole idea of “industrial” will be different; sufficiently different that the label “Industrial Designer” will be meaningless.
    It’s all Design now afaic. And that’s a great thing for us. Not everyone will want to do their own thing and there will always be companies for whom these people can work. But we increasingly have an option… an option we didn’t really have before.
    btw, if you’ve not read or figured out this post – http://blog.rebang.com/?p=1291 – give it a look. What the guy on the Meshverse Journal is explaining is a BIG deal. I’ve not figured out completely how this would work for designs (3D ready for fabrication), but it does have an impact.

  • drew kora

    June 6, 2007 at 2:26 am Reply

    For some reason, reading this made me instantly think of Wonkavision from Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. See something you like on screen? Just reach out and grab it. Well this is pretty darn close. See something you like on screen? Just “export to fab” and watch your fabbing machine build, let’s say an mp3 player, in a few minutes.
    …I wonder if I could desktop fab my own desktop fabbing machine?

  • csven

    June 6, 2007 at 2:36 am Reply

    For the interested, Neil Gershenfeld’s presentation from TED 2006 is online and worth watching. It draws heavily from his book, “Fab”, which I highly recommend.
    @drew – the RepRap project is attempt to build just that sort of machine: http://blog.reprap.org . And you can purchase a Fab@Home kit now. For reference on that one: http://www.fabathome.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page
    Hope those are of interest. My own blog is primarily concerned with the intersection of this technology with virtual worlds. 3D is 3D. And that brings up some problems for designers. Read this and you’ll get a sense of what I’m worried about: http://blog.rebang.com/?p=186 and http://blog.rebang.com/?p=403 and
    http://blog.rebang.com/?p=634
    All the best.

  • csven

    June 6, 2007 at 2:37 am Reply

    Sorry. Here’s a link to that video: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/90

  • We are Designers « endsig

    June 6, 2007 at 9:56 am Reply

    […] about $10 for a spiral bound notebook from the local art store). Then I read DT’s article on “Fabbing: A Primer for Guerilla Design Strategies” and this started me thinking about what it is that makes us desigers and seperates us from everyone […]

  • Design Translator

    June 10, 2007 at 7:43 pm Reply

    So sorry for getting back so late into the discussion. I had a few things to attend to.
    @csven, thanks for your insight and links,I think it will be happening soon, and I hope I can attend to this change from a design standpoint of view. Quite a lot of this fabbing push comes from the bottom up, via researches (like Neil), technologists and engineers. However at this time I have not read much from the standpoint of design, besides the usual we have all the flexibility to make what every we want. More of the designer’s mindset on how to deal with this change.
    @drew, heheh do check our csven’s blog, sometimes though he does worry me as he tends to disappear into his meta-verse and forgets to come back! Kidding, but he is one of the experts in the virtual world (from a designer’s stand point) that we will soon encounter a lot more off!

  • […] forward we are on a cusp of a new revolution and that is personal fabrication or fabbing. The time for Desktop Manufacturing will be is just around the corner in the next few years. I […]

  • […] forward we are on a cusp of a new revolution and that is personal fabrication or fabbing. The time for Desktop Manufacturing will be is just around the corner in the next few years. I […]

  • […] forward we are on a cusp of a new revolution and that is personal fabrication or fabbing. The time for Desktop Manufacturing will be is just around the corner in the next few years. I […]

  • […] forward we are on a cusp of a new revolution and that is personal fabrication or fabbing. The time for Desktop Manufacturing will be is just around the corner in the next few years. I […]

  • […] 10. Rapid manufacturing processes are becoming more accessible and we are starting to see sites like ponoko appearing. Given that CAD and Rapid Manufacturing are becoming so prominent. How will this affect the role of the designer if anyone can design objects? And what affect do you think this will have on design in the next 5 years? I’ve touched on this briefly in question 8 and intentionally left the answer open ended.

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