I’m sure other’s got this email today as well…

what are your guys thoughts on the trend towards FREE?

I can’t quite make up my mind. Somehow the system seems to be self-destructively relying on advertising…advertising non-free stuff I would assume.

an interesting article about what valuable in a free economy…

It’s on the cover of WIRED magazine too.

Lots of intersecting trends enabling this one… I am curious about the implications for the Design profession (as we know it.)

“Free” design is already popular on the net via CSS templates, opensource software, virtual 3D objects, creative-commons photography etc. And a lot of companies are embracing opensource as a way to get “free” development around a platform.

i know that graphic design has suffered since the availability of ‘easy’ to use software… ie managers who don’t really understand GD needed a warm body to fire up photoshop vs a well qualified and capable designer.

one could say that those managers are out of touch and doomed to fail in using design effectively. non-the-less any designer who has been put in the position knows how painful it can be.

yeah, i just read some of that article in wired too…

its odd to me…not really free but subtle layers of the perception of free.

they actually use some examples that aren’t even close to free. One such example is Comcast and their DVR set, it has a setup fee + a monthly service charge. Sounds more like a lease/rental service then free too me.

Well, there is already an open source automobile design website. This Kluster is an interesting take on the idea of “free design”…although not quite.

Chris Anderson gave a keynote a while back about Free. Its an interesting listen:

i just realized that this is a whole elaborate viral marketing scheme for Chris to sell his upcoming book, “Free”.



he paid for it…

Something in the trend briefing reminded me of something I speculated on: what happens when manufacturing cost approaches zero?

With the reducing cost of rapid prototyping, I think this is something to think about. I can imagine a day within 10 years where people will download simple houseware products and perhaps aesthetic parts to products like phones and just print them out at home. At that point, a whole lot of designers will be at the same table as musicians with regards to what happens to their recorded work. Recorded as .mp3 or recorded as .stl, whichever the case may be.

As for those of us who work on more complicated products that integrate many manufacturing process into the final product, I think we’re safe for a few decades more until that hole in the wall of the USS Enterprise is invented and we can just beam in cups of Earl Grey tea and guitars at will.

Once everyone can have anything, the only premium will be on things that can’t be had. It is already happening in the product world. Note all of the “Limited edition” sneakers around. Relatively inexpensive sneakers with already amortized tooling, but because the specific colorway is limited and marked (usually as 1 of 300 or whatever) the price can be 10 times as much as the common colorway.

This of course is nothing new. Engravers like Albrecht Durer would scratch huge x’s in their plates after a certain number of prints, ensuring a higher demand than supply, guaranteeing a price. Simple business… this was the 1400’s

This could easily be done within the code of a file, a certain number of prints and the file scrambles itself. Also their will be a premium on ultra exclusives, custom 1 of 1’s so no one else can have the thing you paid an artisan (designer) to make specifically for you, even if they are made with the same rapid prototyping techniques. Also, note the resurgence of luxury craft, things that can not be made other than by hand.

The manufacturing possibilities are amazing technological breakthroughs, the business model is older than dirt. The force is always balanced.

This is starting to emerge in the gaming industry as well:

This looks interesting and fun, but EA has been gobbling up all the decent game design studios for the past decade, they recently bid 2 Billion for Take 2 (Grand Theft Auto) and Take 2 told them where to shove it.

As far as products are concerned lots of companies have stopped “selling” a brand in efforts to get consumers to join their brand. What better way to make that easier than by offering stuff for free. Drug dealers have been doing this for a long time…

this would seemingly place greater interest/calue and cost on materials that were more expensive, limited in quantity, otherwise desirable, harder to mass produce etc.

i.e. when everyone gets a desktop SLA that can print in ABS (or whatever other polymer) maybe CNC’d cocobolo parts become the premium alternative.

All this being said, I think the idea of desktop manufacture may have a much different impact if any. When people had access to word processors and decently fast printers, everyone did not start writing novels… so what will they do, and who will be doing it?

kind of off subject but, might be cool to collect these X’d out prints …haha

Great point IDiot, I had a thought about the future of designers being somewhat like musicians, just because I can buy a guitar doesn’t mean all the other musicians go away.

Granted the music industry has its own problems, but I actually think it has nothing to do with the actual musician/music.

Wonder if the artistic side of product design will end up being more important in this world of free.

That makes me think about underground vs. commercial type arguements you see in the music (and most other) industry. It already exists in ID today, but I could see this driving even more disparities between the several existing factions of ID thought or genres to use your analogy. haha wow, I’m really thinking now…

Desktop printers didn’t encourage everyone to write novels, but that’s not the idea. The desktop printer did allow people to print other people’s novels without paying $25 to a publisher. The iPod let’s people download music without paying $20 to a music publisher. I don’t think it is insignificant that book publishers are going bankrupt. Also, I’ve read about more and more bands who are focusing on touring. Remember the last big record from Dave Mathews? I don’t. However, the guy is rolling in cash from sold out shows. He’s not alone.

Will designers become the same way? Right now, I need a $30,000 tool, a factory and some skilled labor to produce even one plastic melamine ladle. But when I have a printer that costs, maybe a $1000, I can print that ladle for the cost of material only. I’m sure this will lead to some cottage industries. I’ve never ceased to be amazed at the variety of product at artisan shows and flea markets in the US.

There are a lot of creative people making, what we might call, folk art. Right now, their work is labor intensive, because of the tools (word working mostly). However, after one computer model is made, the labor is minimized to removing a model from a printer. This could mean an explosion in home arts.

Another possibility is that people will just download stl files on bit torrents. There is already a huge market of cheap 3D files available on the internet. Things like Audi R8’s in polygon models ready for use in video games or architectural renders. I don’t think it is unrealistic to imagine a day when people are modeling Oxo products and posting the stl files on a website. That could kill the income for designers in housewares and other simple(r) product industries.

who prints a whole book out? its not even worth it by the time paper and ink are paid for, not to mention a huge waste of time. Digital books change things a little, but I don’t think they will over take the industry.

There is a bigger issue with publishers. There are something crazy like 300k books published yearly in the US…7 of 10 loss money, 2 break even, 1 is a profit maker. A great example of someone slowing down is They only publish 12 books a year and have a set of guidelines that directs their decision making .

Its really an issue of quality over quantity.

Same as what I was thinking… holding a stack of loose 8.5x11’s vs a book just to save a few pennies?

I think that is a good example of just because the consumer can, doesn’t mean they will.

Asango, I think you where on with the musician analogy. Anyone can go to Guitar Center and buy a guitar, but the percentage that do is small, the percentage of those who make music is even smaller. Turns out most of us still want professional musicians to write, play, and record music, and the rest of us want to pretend on Guitar Hero… will design go that way?

Isn’t already? You can play designer on Nike ID and

I didn’t go into detail, but people read more and more online, whether they print the text out or read on their monitor. That text might be blogs, forums, newspapers, DIY guides, magazine articles, or occasionally books. I don’t consider myself average, but I printed out a book on injection molding once. I wanted to make notes in it and be able to reference it even away from my computer.

My point with publishing is, the user does not need to buy in order to read. No matter what they want to read, it’s available somewhere in an electronic form waiting to be downloaded.

It’s about digitally stored content and what users can do with it.