This week saw the release of ‘Makers: The New Industrial Revolution’, a book by Chris Anderson which – like his previous effort ‘The Long Tail’ – takes a small but established trend to the attention of a much wider audience. The book makes the case for a new industrial revolution where distributed small scale production becomes the norm and where the lines between producers and consumers becomes more blurred.
As an agency that helps product and service businesses co-create with their stakeholders and consumers, this feels like very fertile territory, but also potentially very disruptive. So what should we make of it all?
The rise of the Makers…
People making things themselves or working in cottage industries isn’t itself new, but the fact that this is once again becoming fashionable is. There are a lot of sceptical voices out there casting doubt over the limitations of current technology and the viability of using small scale ‘manufacturing’ for producing objects other than like kooky picture frames. However for us, the fact that tech like 3D printing now exists and that there are communities of people experimenting, learning and ‘making’ at some scale is very intriguing.
At FACE we involve many people in the process of co-creating new products, brand communications or service ideas for our clients – sector experts, technical experts, illustrators, various design disciplines and of course the end consumers. The fact that ‘making’ is on the rise should provide great opportunities to bring in new skills and talents into the innovation process, talents that don’t exist in-house.
More people making means more people inventing and producing stuff, just like the proverbial monkeys with typewriters eventually producing the works of Shakespeare. Some of that stuff will be awesome but most of it will be anything but.
This is perhaps less relevant than the simple point that, as has happened in the world of apps, a lot more product ideas will be making it out into the world in a usable form. Browsing Kickstarter will give you an idea of the volumes. Having that many ideas succeed and fail in public is an incredible amount of trial and error, which can produce detailed information about where consumer appetite lies.
This may mean that in many areas the bottom is going to fall out of the ‘having ideas’ market – and move into the ‘find the right ideas and making them useful’ market. P&G started to think this way many years ago via their Connect + Develop model. However, it’s amazing how many companies start their innovation process by sitting in a room and brainstorming when they should be looking to the outside world.
The part that we’re getting most excited about is that it’s getting much easier for things to get real much earlier. The time and cost to take product or service to a point where it looks, feels, and behaves like the finished article is getting shorter.
This gives companies new models for collaborating with stakeholders and users. Just as software companies release operating systems and applications in beta to a limited number of users, product and service companies can now start to experiment with creating usable prototypes of ideas much earlier on.
3D-prototyping isn’t just a trend to bring into co-creation workshops at the start of the new product development process. In fact, the philosophy of collaboration isn’t something to be kept to set stage of the product development process. Instead, we believe pervasive collaboration, easy prototyping and the ‘maker’ approach suggest a way for brands to work in a much more fluid way with external collaborators, be they experts, makers or end consumers. Enough ‘brainstorms’ – build.
It will spur better thinking. In ‘The Craftsman’, eminent sociologist Richard Sennett describes the kind of embodied, practical knowledge of things that can only be gained through a physical, hands-on approach. He quotes Kant: “The hand is the window to the mind.” Through physically playing with objects, we can literally feel what works and what doesn’t – it’s no longer an abstract problem. A lot of what agencies do can sometimes tend towards wordsmithing, removed from the tangibility of the products we’re ultimately working on. A ‘maker’ approach – Sennett’s ethics of the workshop – suggests a productive new way forward.