Today’s technology has progressed to the point that anyone with a computer and basic product design knowledge can potentially bring a new product to market. Author Hugh Howey was one of the first individuals to test this emerging product design trend with the release of his eBook entitled Wool back in 2011. Howey released the book independently and digitally through Amazon, setting the stage for his own future success as well as paving the way for thousands of other independent authors to do the same. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this process was that he ultimately controlled when he would release the next book and what he would write about, rather than answering to a publishing company.
The ensuing years have seen a democratization of product design as barriers to entry have been broken down in multiple areas. Rather than making risky investments in computer software and hardware to create their designs, today’s entrepreneur can work on cloud-based systems and raise money for his or her project through crowdfunding websites. The offshoot from all of this disruptive technology is that the physical production of new products has changed for good. The manufacturing process of today is often localized, and is no longer reliant on massive overseas factories. Inventors can make use of membership-based tech shops, micro-factories, and 3D printing to complete the entire production lifecycle right here at home.
Are We in the Midst of Another Industrial Revolution?
The second industrial revolution, which lasted from 1870 to 1914, came about in response to the country’s move from an agricultural society to one that employed industrial labor and production techniques in factories. The assembly line grew out of this era. Today, emerging technologies, new manufacturing methods, and the ability to raise funds for projects through non-traditional means are just some of the factors leading to more personalized products. The use of mass production has fallen out of favor in many instances. Designers now have the ability to produce a single product according to customer’s specifications without incurring huge expenditures.
Designers who wish to remain competitive in this new paradigm must strive to develop products rapidly for a highly targeted group of consumers. There is no turning back now that we are in a new era of individualized craftsmanship.
Empowering the Next Generation of Product Designers
In the past two decades, product designs has undergone a radical change from being something accessible by only select group of professionals performed to something that can be undertaken by the masses. Whereas design was once a singular process, today it has become highly specialized and part of a larger value chain.
According to a recent article in Forbes, Autodesk initiated a new program titled, “Design the Future” in September of 2013, which aims to equip educators with free design software and training materials. To date, the “company has committed $250 million to the program and 3,600 middle and high schools have taken advantage” of the initiative. As Tom Joseph, Senior Director of Autodesk explains, investing into the next generation of product designers is viewed as critical to the company’s long-term success.
“American companies, including many of our customers, have high-paying, yet unfilled positions due to the lack of qualified U.S. high school and university graduates.”
Democratization is the latest and biggest trend in design, and by all accounts, it is here to stay. With the product design technology and tools accessible to the general public in today’s marketplace, expect to see the individual craftsmen make a comeback in the coming years.