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!