Thousands of hours spent on designing 3D prints has led to more than a few lessons learned about how to best create 3D printed products. The order of the design process has to be right for the product to end up right so we are sharing our five top lessons about 3D printing, 3D design thinking, and what to do and consider at each step of the process.
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Lessons Learned After 1000s of Hours Designing 3D Prints
We’ve been doing a lot of reflection on the thousands of hours we’ve been 3D printing or talking about 3D printing or designing 3D prints over the last few years. We’ve been thinking about ,what did we really learn in this process and were we able to do what we set out to do, which is really help people jump the learning curve? Did we jump the learning curve? Did we scale it? Are we more efficient now than we ever were before?
I definitely think we’re more efficient now than we were ever before. No question. No question, we are. This is the thing I get when I go out and I give lectures and I talk all over the place when I talk about design and innovation and how we design. When I tell people we did 250 products in the last eight years, they look at me like I’m insane. “How did you manage to do that?” I want to go, “Really, there were actually probably thousands of products if you want to look at our binder.” We didn’t ever show them to anybody because we didn’t take them to market.
For every one design that we take to market, there might have been a dozen rejects and sometimes more. It’s not about the designing part of it that we get fast and prolific with. It’s about having the order of the process be right. That’s what I always tell people.
I think there are some lessons we’ve learned about the process of how to do this using 3D printing as creating 3D prints or 3D printed designs. There are some things we’ve learned and some key factors and recommendations that we have for people.
Designing 3D Prints – Think First
We came up with a list of five that we think are the most important. The order in which we do it is the important part of it. When we set out to design and 3D print, we think first. This surprises a lot of people, especially if they’re not designers “What do you mean? You don’t just design it in the computer?” No, I don’t. We talk a lot, actually. We do. It really starts in your head.
This actually is also a surprise, I think, to especially aspiring young designers coming out of school who are interviewing for their first job, whether that’s an internship or their first full time position. They don’t really realize, I care a lot less about what’s in your portfolio that you’ve done when you were in school. I’m going to ask you questions because I want to know if you know how to think.
Design thinking and thinking first is part of the process. There might be some sketches and demonstration. We like to bounce it off to each other. This is one of the reasons why we believe that we’ve been very successful with the products that we’ve launched, is because that creative process happens at all hours, at all times.
For us, being able to access each other and be able to say, “Hey, I’ve been mulling over the idea that we want to create a puzzle this year for our holiday gift. How are we going to do it? I’ve been thinking about this. I saw something yesterday that inspired me and now I drew this quick little sketch. What do you think?” It might be Sunday. How often, when you work in an office space, do you get to do that? You don’t get to do that very often.
The other advantage, slight sidebar here, is that because we work together and because we’re married, I also can tell you absolutely the truth. There’s no corporate politics involved where I’m worried about my job or worried I’m might getting reprimanded for one thing or another. If I think your idea is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, I’m going to tell you, “I think that’s crap.” But that never happens. We do have that rapport with each other because we know.
The best part is, this is my favorite part, whenever we do tell each other that something is just not good, I usually don’t even say, “It’s crap.” I just go, “No, that’s not it.” We go back and think more, especially if we’re like, “I feel like I’m on to something. Somehow I didn’t express it or it’s not there yet or something’s not right yet.” Then we’ll discuss a little further.
Designing 3D Prints – Consider Your Audience
I might say, “I think this audience, this particular audience,” which is our number two or the lessons learned on designing 3D prints, who is it for would be the number two thing we consider as we’re designing for 3D printing. When I look at that, we would go, “I think this audience isn’t going to like something made out of plastic. I don’t think that we want to go for an FFF on this.” We discuss that back and forth and that also helps to further refine the idea.
I think that everybody, at least this is my opinion, every designer has an ego. I have one too, you have one too. Every designer has an ego. The reality is, I think, to be able to put that ego aside and to really open your mind up to the perspective of others, others that you trust in particular. This is not your friends and family. No, we’re not saying design by committee. That’s not the point at all here. This is trusted design partnerships, whether they be mentors or other advisors. Get some other perspectives because we all have blind spots.
There’s this great book I read pretty recently called Originals. One of the messages that he makes very clear there is that major innovation happens more often when you ask experts and get their input than when you ask the focus group, the audience. You have to go for high level experts within the field or within the product category or whatever that might be. That is where you really get the most constructive feedback that you can do something with. It really tells you whether or not you’re on to something or you’re not.
One of these things, we talk about this, ego. It’s really about not treating a single design as a baby ever. You can’t do what we do in the way that we do it and as fast as we do it if we thought each one of them was so great that they had to be out on the market. We don’t really have that attachment to our designs.
They’re not precious. They can’t be. They’re just another idea. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be a great design and be very valuable to a lot of people, but it’s got to go through a very long process. There’s no point in wasting time on something that just doesn’t meet the criteria.
We talked about this. There’s an episode we called Discarding 3D Print Ideas. We call it our discard pile. You’re playing cards, you have a hand. Sometimes you have to discard a card that’s a really great card, wouldn’t I love the queen of hearts? But … Doesn’t fit. Doesn’t fit my hand right now. Let me discard it down.
It may come back up in your hand and be perfect for it. Or maybe, you sit there and orchestrate your hand over time to be perfect for the next time she comes up. That’s how we look at these ideas. We aren’t getting rid of them, we’re not going to ignore them. We’re not saying they’re bad. We’re just saying they’re not going to be the most viable going forward and they’re not going to be best for the audience we want.
We think first, we figure out who it’s for and then we really screen those two things together and say, “Is this right and should we go forward?” The who it’s for is not to be really under-emphasized either. Don’t gloss over this one. Who it’s for is critical. If an object you’re making doesn’t have a purpose, if there isn’t someone who’s going to want it or find value in it or benefit from it, then what is the point?
That’s design. In an art situation, there still is a viewer, there still is someone you want to receive it. It’s no different there as well. You have an audience. Is it going to be in a gallery? Are they going to watch it? Who are the people you want to attract to your message, you want to attract to your art?
It doesn’t matter whether it’s art, design, engineering, any of those things. It still has an audience. It still has someone that it’s for or some place that it needs to be, that’s a fit. That’s what you’re evaluating, is that right fit, right there at number two.
Designing 3D Prints – Know and Grow Your CAD Skills
Our number three is really something we believe in strongly. You must continually be CAD proficient. You must get your skills down to the point at which they’re like breathing.
CAD, you know what, some CAD programs are a lot more difficult than others to learn. But one thing’s for sure, you can’t 3D print something that you see in your mind’s eye unless you can build it in three dimensions in a computer. You’ve got to develop a level of proficiency at one or more CAD programs to be able to realize your vision or your sketch or whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
You can’t let your tech skills limit your design skills. Because your imagination is great, your tech skills need to keep up. One of the ways that we recommend doing that is by a marathon. We love this episode we did a while back about the 3D printed espresso cups or coffee cups. We thought that was a really great project.
He set out for himself to create 30 days, 30 cups. One cup a day. Very simple concept. Each cup had its own uniqueness, some of them had textures, some of them didn’t, some of them were sized differently. He learned all sorts of CAD things and tested his skills along the way. That’s a great way to crash course yourself into, give yourself a marathon task like that and build your skills quickly.
It’s hard for me to really be able to give a lot of good modern advice on how to learn how to use a CAD program other than just dig into it and do it. You need mileage under your belt. You need time doing it, model after model after model. I don’t know that I could teach it effectively, like teaching a class or something, for a certain CAD program because I’ve just been doing it for so darn long now.
It’s ridiculous. More than 20 years, actually well more than 20 years. It’s almost 30. I’m really getting old. I guess I started learning 2D CAD in 1986 on AutoCAD 2.0. It’s now 2016, that’s 30 years. Damn. I actually am good at math. Don’t let this fool you.
Anyway, I’ve been using CAD for all those years. I’ve got well more than 10,000 hours of CAD work. I don’t think I have 100k. I have probably 20,000 or 30,000 of CAD but also mixed in with a whole bunch of design and other things too. You don’t have to have 20,000 or 30,000 hours in before you do that.
But even a couple thousand hours in doing CAD. I mean that. I’m serious, a couple thousand hours is what it’s going to take before you stop thinking about, “All right, what command am I going to use to do that?” You just actually do it. You see it in your mind, what you want to make, you go sit down at your computer, you start your CAD program, you’re like, “Okay.” You just start doing it. It’s second nature.
That’s where great work happens, when you’re not slowing yourself down to think about the process and the tool I need to use. Everybody has to go through that first, but you got to get through it.
I want to liken this to those of you who are writers out there. When you go through and you sit down to write an article, a blog post, a book, a chapter, whatever it is that you do, the number one rule of writing is that you just write. If you edit while you’re writing, you’re making a huge mistake because you will be much less efficient. You’ll end up in this cycle of not making enough progress, not getting enough ideas out. You actually will hurt your overall writing, not just your speed but the quality of the work at the end of the day.
The number rule is to just go and do it. The best way to do it is obviously you’re not looking at your fingers typing, anything. You’re just typing. It’s just coming out of your brain and going in there. You don’t want that short circuit that happens as you start to edit yourself.
That’s what happens when you’re starting to think about the CAD functions. When you start to think about how do I make this happen, it’s the same process in your brain that is not letting you push your idea out and be creative. It’s short circuiting the creativity process.
That’s why we say you think first. Thinking is part of designing for us, so is sketching. It’s a process. It goes back and forth for me between a sketchbook and my mind. I’m thinking and designing before I ever get to the computer. By the time I get to the computer, it’s really all about execution. I know what I want to do. I have a vision for what it is and I’m just going and realizing that vision.
Designing 3D Prints – Test It Out
It’s about solving problems along the way, which leads us to our number four, which is test, test, test. You know when you’ve thought it through and you’ve started to visualize what this is going to be. As you get into your computer to go do that, you know that there’s a big challenge in a particular section, a function you have to solve or some area that is complicated. We solve those first, if possible.
Wonderful thing about 3D printing, you can print just a portion of your object, the most difficult or the most challenging portion, and make sure that it’s going to work, that it ends up being what you wanted and expected it to be. If not, you make a modification and you do it again. You do that over and over.
That is the most wonderful part about 3D printing, is that iteration process. It’s because it matches the iteration process of design, that that’s how the design process itself has to work. You have to learn something, fix it, move on. Learn something, fix it, redo it again. Whatever you got to keep going on until you get it the way that want it, until you get it what’s right.
Designing 3D Prints – Refine Last
We saved for number five, our last step that we save in the process of designing 3D prints, not that there’s not 100 little mini steps within that. These are just five key takeaways. We refine last. Sometimes in engineering, you call it value add engineering. It sounds boring. It sounds really boring.
Basically, the ideas that, “Look, I’ve got this print and now I’m going to warily worry about the printing part of it. I’m going to worry about how should I orient it. I’m going to worry about what’s the most efficient way to do this.” Sometimes you might have to go back and do a little redesign to make that work because it will make it more efficient. But we don’t want to compromise the initial design process, encumber it with that thinking, with the minutia of getting every detail right and executing right on the first try? No, definitely not.
No, you want to get through that and say, “Is this working? Is this visually what I want? Does this look like what I want? Is this, who it’s for, is going to love this?” You want to get that part out first and then worry about how long it takes to print and whether or not you need certain support in certain areas, how you can make that work better, how you can make it all more efficient.
I don’t think this is any different than the design process we took before, just 3D printings in the mix of it. It would just take a whole lot longer to do the testing part, prototyping part. We might have to go down to the shop and couple together something that maybe didn’t look as pretty as it can look on the 3D print machine and just test out our things.
The life cycle, the time cycle was longer before but is not now. That’s the best part about it. To me, it’s speed of process and more accurate and honestly, more fun because you’re spending less time actually constructing something and more time creating and making it a great design.
That’s our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is that we know that what we do best is doing the thinking and sketching and refining and getting that work done. We want to really spend as much time in that part of the process and that creative portion of the process as possible.
Final Thoughts on Designing 3D Prints
When you get encumbered in all these other things that are difficult or arduous or you do them in wrong order and then you have to go back and redo and rethink, that just makes the process not as rewarding for us. That’s why we’ve worked it out the way that we do. It gives us the most time to spend in section one and two, which we love. Thinking about it and then defining who it’s for and how we’re going to make them love it.
It’s all a part of the process, all aspects of it. I think that that front end process is some of the most fun. 3D printing, I think, brought a lot of fun into the process that wasn’t there prior. You get a lot of loss of enthusiasm when you talk about that longer cycle, time cycle. You had this great enthusiasm designing and getting the specs out and then you send it off to the prototyper or to, in our case, it goes all the way to Asia to be prototyped. A month later, maybe you get it, or a couple weeks later.
You just have that loss of immediate enthusiasm and you’re like, “Oh yeah. Okay, I’ve already moved on in my head and started designing the next thing.” Not only is there loss of enthusiasm but if that two, three weeks later, coming back from being prototyped over in Asia like we’ve done a lot in the past, and it really doesn’t work, it isn’t what you expect it to be. You’re stuck. Then you’ve really lost a lot of time and it’s very disappointing. 3D printing is all right by me.
Designing 3D prints, we love it. We are looking at new ways to be even more efficient and do it faster. That’s a lot of our discussions lately. We’re continuing to think about this. As we were thinking about this, we realized that this is how we would outline the process as to how it would work for someone else, how we define it. Think first, define who it’s for, get really CAD proficient and then work on it in CAD. Test, test, test, in pieces if necessary, and refine the production process very last.
Hope that’s helpful to a lot of you. Some few good nuggets there for some people that have a lot of mileage under their belts in terms of designing products. I hope that’s useful to you. Feel free, adopt it, add to it. Let us know what you think anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint and give us your thoughts. There’s no bad ideas here. There’s things to add and different ways of working. This is how we do it and what we think is most important.
- Discarding 3D Print Ideas
- 30 Days of 3D Printed Espresso Cups
- Do I Need a Revolutionary Business Plan?
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