Back in 2011, author Hugh Howey digitally and independently released his science-fiction novella Wool on Amazon. The typical months or years of waiting for publisher acceptance or, more likely, rejection letters and the ensuing production process were completely eliminated.
Wool took off like crazy. Feeding the popular demand, Howey began a self-published eBook series and, unlike traditional book-distribution models, his work was completely under his own creative and physical control. When he had the next story ready—whether it was a month or six months later—it was delivered immediately to readers.
Thanks to the popularity of the series, Howey also went on to receive a lucrative publishing contract and book-distribution deal on top of it all.
So this brings me to an interesting point and what I pay attention to day in, day out: customers and their relationships with design and manufacturing. What could self-published authors, eBooks, and product design and manufacturing have in common? Turns out, it’s quite a bit.
This is the new reality—anyone can take their idea (sometimes good, sometimes bad) to market. Authors do it with Kindles and iPads. Musicians do it with SoundCloud and YouTube. And now designers and manufacturers can effectively do it, too.
The bar has never been lower with new factors affecting product design. Design software is completely accessible to everyone through free or low-price monthly subscriptions, financing is untraditional (think Kickstarter), and marketplaces are freely available.
Seriously, anyone—from a jewelry designer on Etsy to an up-and-coming hardware designer on Quirky—can create a unique niche in the marketplace or an entire product category. The possibilities are endless.
All About Access
Welcome to the Era of Connection—an entirely new democratization that’s finally happening for product design.
With access to the cloud, anyone has the power to design and create; you don’t need to invest heavily in hardware or buy your own server to be up and running. Thanks to the cloud, even a startup can be one person in a garage again.
You can also communicate and share expertise like never before. Crowdsourcing, collaborating globally, and accessing stores of data mean more knowledge. In fact, software is progressing to the point that it can help give you suggestions to make a product better and answer questions you might never think to ask.
And the physical production, while still complicated, is becoming much more accessible, too. Manufacturing is not just overseas; it’s going “local” again through new-shoring. From memberships to TechShops that feature an array of CNC machines and 3D printers to the growing trend of microfactories, the means to actually produce a product is much closer than ever.
Product Story Happy Ending?
The disruption in product design and manufacturing is monumental right now. There are major transitions—embracing (and trusting) the cloud, discovering how to work within changing distribution and supply-chain models, learning the new demands from an ever-evolving consumer. Everyone loves a happy ending. We aren’t there yet—but it’s getting easier, and innovation continues.
As author Toni Morrison famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Same goes for products. Go make it because, finally, anyone can.