We have an interview today with someone from Pinshape. I want to give some background as to why we decided to interview this person; Tracy wrote a blog post that was put up on Pinshape last fall, about six months ago. They included an excerpt from her blog in this new design guide they have done.
We are going to talk to Lauren Watkins, who is the marketing manager for Pinshape. She handles the online content, including this design guide, which is a cool idea. They take in a lot of the blog posts they have over the course of the year that were advice on how the designer could take it from a concept to a business. It is all sorts of tips and guides on various aspects of that process.
My particular section was pricing. You are the stickler for making sure that we are making money. I don’t think people should be unaware of the factors that go into making something profitable. What happens if it does explode? Isn’t that why you put it up there? Well, maybe.
I still think there are a lot of hobbyists out there, guys who are having fun on the weekends, and that’s great. More power to them, nothing wrong with that.
For those of us designers who are in business to make a living, it is a critical thing. Really make sure that you know if you are profitable or not. Or you may think you are charging $50 an hour, but at the end of the day, you may be charging $5 an hour depending on how much time you put in.
I think the point is that Pinshape has a mission to grow that business side of their membership because why would you put in a guide that is strictly for marketing and business and all the things you need to create a successful, profitable shop at the end of the day? I think that it’s good that there are tools. They need to be cognizant that they need to help these people build their businesses.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Design Guide to a Successful Shop
Hi, Lauren, thank you so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me on the show. It’s awesome.
We are excited about your design guide, and that’s what we wanted to talk to you about today. Thank you for featuring me in there, but the real reason is we think that becoming a better 3D designer is going to improve the marketplace in general. We are really thrilled you are providing guidelines for that. Tell us a bit about how that came about and why you guys decided to do that.
Of course, one of the main things we care about at Pinshape is having awesome designs to share with makers and other designers. It all started when we were putting our blog together and asking some of our amazing community members who have a plethora of knowledge to be guest bloggers. We got more and more blogs on there, and we realized that we should put together a guide where all of this information is in one place to answer the question of how you become a great designer. Not only are we recognizing our awesome community and putting their contributions out there, but we are also helping people who are thinking about becoming designers or are already designers and want to improve their designs for 3D printing to do so in an easy, interactive, and fun way that isn’t intimidating.
It is a little intimidating to be a 3D print designer because there are so many aspects to it. You are a freelancer, you’re concerned about designing, you have to sell, you have to think about the new market. You cover all of these aspects in the guide.
A lot of the people on our site started out in animation, so when you’re designing for 3D printing, there are different things you have to keep in mind. You may not always think about them if you have never owned a 3D printer or 3D printed something before. You don’t necessarily have to have a 3D printer to be a 3D designer for 3D printing. That’s what we’re hoping to share some insights on through this guide.
Do you find that the majority of the designers on the Pinshape site today came from some other discipline, other than product design? You mentioned animation for example. A lot of the designers came from animation. What other fields do they come from?
A lot of people do animation designs for their full-time job. Designing for 3D printing is something that came along later on. They decided they really liked it, so they ended up taking up 3D printing themselves. I’d say a lot of the designers on our site do it for fun or are 3D designers for a different industry and then do 3D printing design as well on the side.
Your site does allow them to sell their designs and not just distribute them for free, right?
Absolutely. It’s up to the designer to decide if they are going to charge for the design, if they are going to make it free, or if they will allow someone to stream it.
Do you think the number of designs that people are trying to sell has increased on your site over time?
Yes. We have over 13,000 designs on the site.
What percentage of them are for sale versus free?
Most of them are free. I can’t give you an exact number, but I would ballpark maybe 90%.
You included in your design guide marketing tips for selling. Is it kind of where you think the market should go?
We’re all about giving the designer that freedom to decide. We think that designers are putting a lot of time and effort into their designs, and they want to sell it, they definitely should. People are willing to pay some money for it. Most of the designs that are for sale on our site are between $1 and $5, which is totally reasonable. Everybody can afford that. If you want to contribute to a designer and appreciate their hard work, then we support that.
We know how much time it takes to design, so know that you need to value that. You know what I found interesting is the first chapter is “Design 3D Models that People Want.” I think that’s interesting because a lot of sites have grown up as, “I made this, so I’ll throw it up on a site.” Instead, you’re really saying that it’s better if you have designs up there that people want, that they are interested in searching for and looking for.
This guide is to help people hopefully make some money off of it. If your goal is to make some money, you want to design something that people will want. You’re not just doing this for yourself. Some people do, which is great, too. But if we are going to be making a guide for people who will be putting their designs up for people to potentially buy, that is the first thing you have to think about: What do people want to see? We have some great data from our site that we wanted to share to show people what exactly are the most popular things to download.
We have done some surveys on the previous year from 2015: What were the top sellers and/or downloads off of Shapeways and other sites? We found that it’s unfortunately not indicative of where the market is going; it’s kind of where it was. What we are seeing are a lot of tchotchkes and things that have had traction over time because they boost up in the search ratings and not necessarily where the future designs are going. It’s interesting to look at it from a numbers perspective versus a trending perspective over what’s new and what’s coming in and what’s going forward. I think because you show free and paid, the paid is more telling on your site.
Yeah, they are different. We are getting more and more practical designs. People are starting to become more interested in designs they can actually use in their houses, which is awesome. We love to see that. We are constantly looking for designers who have more experience designing things that have more mechanical purposes, so we are excited to see more of that trending, as you said, on the site.
I think that’s an interesting thing you show. Another thing I like in your guide is that your 3D design hardware is last, which I think is so important. You design first, and then you figure out what works for you later in terms of printing. For a lot of 3D model companies, that is backwards from the way they like to work, but I think it’s the best way for a designer to work.
It’s funny you say that because we played around with it. Should we put it in the middle, or should we put it at the top? After thinking about it, we saw that the very end was its place. When you have done all of your design thinking about what people want and what design software you’re going to use, then if you want to get into 3D printing and get better at designing for 3D printing and want to invest in that, then you decide what kind of 3D printer you want. If you don’t want to invest in that printer yet, what are your alternatives?
The what comes first. That’s what we always say here. That’s why we named the podcast What The FFF. We did that because we wanted people to think of what comes first. When you decide what you want to make, choosing a printer becomes very logical because then you have criteria by which to choose one.
Absolutely. You know what kinds of things you will be designing, and that makes a huge difference.
The rookie question that most people who are getting into 3D printing ask is which is the best printer to buy, or which one should I buy? Really that is a very difficult question to answer. It really is about what is the right printer for you, not about what the best printer out there is.
That’s exactly what our guest writer said. It’s not the right question. It’s what are you going to be doing, and what kinds of things are important to you in a printer? Then you can go on from there.
The other chapter I found really interesting is, “Choose Where to Sell Your 3D Model.” Here you are at Pinshape, which is a great place to sell your models. You gave people their options, and I really appreciate that openness. There aren’t many guides out there for 3D designers about where to go. You talk about downloading and streaming and physical distribution of things. I thought that was really serving the community well, and we commend you guys for that.
Thank you. We think it’s important for people to know that they do have options. Maybe selling on Pinshape is not for them, or maybe they want to sell on Pinshape but also sell in person or explore some other options. We thought it was very important to include that.
Do you plan to expand the guide as you keep going forward?
Absolutely. As we have more and more of our amazing designers writing things that they are experts in, we definitely want to include that in the guide. Maybe we will have a Part 2. This is definitely a beginner’s guide. We could potentially do a more advanced design guide. We are also working on a maker guide right now for beginner makers.
What is the distinction between designers and makers for you guys?
The design guide was focused on helping beginner designers for 3D printing figure out what to think about when you are designing things. The maker guide is more if you want to buy a 3D printer, or what kinds of things you need to know. Where can you buy designs, and what are the important things you need to think about when buying a 3D printer and what is slicing software and how you use it and how you level your bed and all of these little things you might not realize you have to know when you start buying a 3D printer.
It’s more like the production side of it.
You might think 3D printing is so cool so you want to buy one, but you have no idea what you got yourself into. There are all these things you need to know, so we want to give people a guide about what you need to know when you become a maker. It’s really fun. We want to make it easy and not daunting, similar to the design guide.
Does Pinshape consider their typical customer to be someone who is interested in 3D printing, they might have a 3D printer, but they are not someone who is really creating files themselves and the creators end up being your members that post up on the site? Is that fair?
There is some crossover. We have people who are definitely the makers who don’t design, and then we have people who are designers and don’t have a 3D printer. But we also have people who are both. They were probably 3D designers first and then probably decided to get into 3D printing. Maybe some people were makers and then decided to get into 3D design as well, but probably less often.
We hear so often the term “maker” was designers as well. I do see a clear distinction the way you guys are defining it. I do really agree that there are two parts to the market.
It’s a double-sided market for us, which is fun because I think if you are a maker and you want to get into designing, then there is a ton to learn from people who have been doing this for a long time. It’s interesting to learn more about how the process works. It gets them to appreciate it more, too. You see all the work and the strategy that goes into creating a design for you. If you get it for free, that’s awesome. If you want to pay a little bit of money, then you know how much work has gone into it.
I think it’s important for a site like Pinshape to be attracting those who are just going to be downloading files and making things. Right now, most of the market, which is why nobody is really buying files, are those we call 3D print converted already. They either know enough about 3D printers or have their own printer, so they don’t really see the value in downloading a file and printing it. They are more likely to create their own. But we see the growth in the market in those who have bought a printer and maybe they intend to make one kind of thing themselves, and they don’t have the design wherewithal to do it.
Like I said before, a lot of the people come from animation backgrounds. They have these amazing skills, and the detail you see in their design is impeccable. It takes a long time to develop that kind of skill. Maybe you’re not there yet, so you can definitely appreciate downloading someone else’s design and seeing, “Wow, I made this.” You still get that satisfaction even if you didn’t design it yourself. It’s something to work toward, too. Maybe one day you can get there.
It’s of particular concern, especially now with these recent events, to designers. Understanding these animation designers or people who have a full-time job doing animation who are then creating files in their spare time to put up on Pinshape, as you said, it takes up a lot of time. We know it first-hand because we do it as well. For the limited amount of money, $1-5 a print is not a whole lot of money for all of the hours it takes them. They would have to sell that design on your site around 1,000 times to have it become in the neighborhood of worth-it from a financial perspective. I think a lot of people are motivated by more than just the financial return, but at some point, I would think in order for this industry to really grow and for product to be created to be printed that is for consumers that will never design in CAD, there has to be a financial incentive to do that. There has to be a value to it. It seems like not only is the bar set very low with the price per download and also in the potential for people to take files if you’re not streaming is still there. It’s disappointing. It could hurt the industry more than it helps.
I remember when we had our interview with Lucas early on in our first 100 episodes. He was talking about having worked very closely with an attorney Michael Wiseberg to make sure that all of those things and the creative commons was clear in the way that you process through your Terms and Conditions, but also that it was very clear on your guys’ end as internal employees at the privacy and security and confidentiality of all of those designs, which I thought was even more interesting. Do you find that you get training in that?
I wouldn’t call it formal training, but it’s definitely a topic of discussion when you first join. You learn about the creative commons and how it is important to protect the designers on the site from things like that. It’s definitely a part of our training and an ongoing topic that we all care about and want to contribute to designers making money, being able to make a living off of it. One day.
Do you guys ever talk about what it’s going to take for this industry to tip a little bit and have designers that are full-time 3D print designers?
That’s a tough question. It’s hard to say. It’s a topic of discussion among us, and it will be interesting to see what happens now that people are talking about creative commons and people who are abusing that are being punished by the public for it.
There has been some name-calling there. Because there is no money being made and because we are all aware of how hard it is to design for it, that’s why we have to be more respectful of the creative commons and the whole process. It’s so great that someone is offering a design for $1-5 that they spent hours working on. We should all be grateful for that.
Absolutely. We hope that this design guide helps people who may not have a lot of experience in design and are thinking about taking it up realize that there are a lot of things you need to think about and a lot of time and effort that goes into it. We are all very lucky that designers are willing to put a lot of work into those things and give them away for free or put them on Pinshape for a couple dollars.
Lauren, both here at WTFFF but also as 3D print designers, what can we do to support the community and efforts?
I think just talking about it is supporting it. Telling people that it does take a lot of time and effort and bringing it to their attention and talking about the issues is helping. We at Pinshape make sure that we are monitoring things like that and are standing up for our community and our designers if something like that were to happen.
We appreciate you standing up for the design community. We believe strongly here that the 3D printing industry is just going to take off. If designers can be successful in it, then the whole industry can be successful. They are tied together, so we have to support each other better, and it has to be financially rewarding for both.
What I would suggest is getting full-time designers to work dedicatedly on 3D print designs to be printed for consumers. That is what is holding the industry back. It’s not the machines; everybody is making a new machine every week, and the technology gets better. What is everybody going to print?
We also see there is a big lack. This is a good idea that you have this design guide because you are talking about a very young community coming in who doesn’t have a lot of entrepreneurial experience, marketing experience, and they are building their business as well as developing as designers. We have to support them as well because you are going to have a whole youth market that is coming in and learning 3D printing at school, and they have to know what to do with it.
Exactly. We did distribute this guide to a lot of those 3D design schools and professors who might be able to use the guide to teach their students what it takes to start your own business and help them in that journey.
That was a good move: getting out there to the schools. Thank you so much for joining us today, Lauren.
3D Design Guide to a Successful Shop – Final Thoughts
I’m still shocked after that interview with how few of the designs on Pinshape are actually for sale compared to what’s free. I don’t think it totally surprises me in any way, shape, or form because clearly when we first interviewed them, their mission was about growing memberships and having a valuable membership and having quantity and designs in their shop. Having ones that sold were not as critically important to them.
I think that’s shifting, and I think this design guide is a clear indicator of that shift, which is a good thing. It means that 3D printing has grown to a stage where it’s not just this valuable where you have a bunch of email addresses in your database. You have members who are contributing interesting, sellable content. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.
It doesn’t go very deep or into a lot of detail. As Lauren said, they plan to keep adding to it. It’s possible they will do a second version of it. I think it’s good because membership needs a service, and you have to provide your members with something. You’re providing them a design guide for what you need next after you put up a couple of designs. Do you want to market it? Do you want to grow a business? Is this a side business? Where do you want to go from there? There are a lot of good tips in this design guide about that. Definitely.
And not just that, but they also needed to provide an understanding of how to do design for 3D printing. You have people who are coming in; remember, they have twofold uses for their design guide. You have all these people who are coming in and looking at these and saying, “That’s cool. I want to do that, too.” You need to have something for them.
They really do understand who their current members on their platform are. Like she said, a lot of them started as 3D designers for characters in movies where they didn’t learn about 3D design for 3D printing. 3D printing has come along, and now they are applying those skills to 3D printing. Or you have the makers who are just making and trying to learn about design. I think it’s a good tool. I think it’s great that a site like this is putting that in. And I think that’s great that Pinshape hired someone like Lauren to spearhead this. That shows some serious commitment to it. She has only been there five or six months. It shows that this is where their future is, this is the way they want to go, and they are trying to help nurture and grow the right type of members for their site that will help it be sustainable long-term. I hope it sustains 3D printing to make it more profitable and long-term as well.
I didn’t know that I was going to end up as a part of this design guide. They just published it and told me. Whoa, that was so cool. You were just doing a guest blog on their site on a subject that we thought was relevant to their members. Some time later, they decided to incorporate it into this guide. That was fun. That was quite an interesting surprise and prompted them to set up this interview. I think it’s great.
Pinshape has been one of those sites that has attracts maybe because of their design of their site. I think their site is well-designed and easily searchable; it’s good-looking, and it’s shoppable. One of my criteria is that a site should be shoppable. Their categories are done well. The way they go through it is fairly easy. That in and of itself is a good attraction, so now they have to help them build up their businesses within that. This is a step in the right direction. I hope it does well, and I hope people take a look at it.
Lauren was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. and has been involved in the 3D printing industry since last year. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and using business and 3d printing to create positive change in the lives of others. Lauren loves to travel and lived in China for a year previously where she picked up a little Mandarin. She is also trains for triathlons and is preparing for her first half Iron Man distance race.
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