The past couple of years we’ve been hearing that anyone can be a creative genius by using a variety of tools ranging from CAD products to rapid prototyping machines. While most people have the capacity to be creative in a certain capacity, this heady claim fails to take in to consideration that not everyone might be truly creative when it comes to creating something of real value in 3D – for either themselves or others. In other words, even with the best tools in the world, there is no guarantee that everyone will be able to create things that anybody else would really want.
The current popularity of the DIY movement has helped the “creativity for everyone” movement, but I think back 20+ years ago when another “revolution” took place in desktop publishing. Prior to desktop publishing for all, printed documents for most home computer users consisted of Courier, Helvetica, and maybe Times Roman fonts on dot matrix printers. With the introduction of Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) and more capable printers, the font possibilities were endless. So endless, in fact, that many early EPS documents with their myriad fonts looked more like ransom notes than business documents. It took a while, but eventually most people got that more fonts is not necessarily better for printed communication. I’m afraid the same thing is happening with 3D printing for visual and tactile communication, but should get more realistic and sound with time and more than just silly toys.
As an industrial designer, over the years I have critiqued designs and reviewed portfolios of ID students at design schools and conferences. The most prominent trend I’ve seen over the past several years is that students have a ton of digital tools at their disposal, but they are concentrating too much attention on the tools themselves and presentation, and not enough on the design problem they are trying to solve. Closely related to this is the fact that while a lot of pretty product designs are being created, relatively few can be manufactured economically, if at all.
When I look way back to my own creative beginnings, as a child I loved to draw on paper and Etch-A-Sketch in 2D and build things in 3D with Legos, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and wood with nails. Did I create anything of real value that appealed to anyone but myself? Honestly, no, but it did spark a an interest in a formal education in design and engineering, as well as fostering a lifelong interest and appreciation for good design.
With the advent of easier to use and affordable (a lot even free) 3D software and hardware, will creativity proliferate? Certainly it will to an extent, but let’s be realistic on the quality and value of the vast majority of the things produced. While there is some reality to the thought that everyone can be creative and produce things in 3D, there is also a good deal of myth with regard to what is actually being created. However, new creative hands-on skills are being learned and put into practice, which is a good thing.
I applaud the efforts that some of the 3D software and hardware vendors have put forth in getting their technologies into the hands of a new type of user. I would just caution the vendors from overselling the promise of creativity for everyone that will result in stunning designs. A small percentage of the designs might have value, but as with products coming out of the professional community, many probably won’t.
Don’t get me wrong, along with DIY, I think it’s a great movement and should be strongly encouraged, we just need to sort out myth from reality when it comes to creating things in 3D.
Since this is such an interesting, strong movement, I’ll come back to this topic many times in the future, especially as I check out a number of the 3D software and hardware products and services for myself. Let’s get creative!