Modifiability or Maker?

Posted on July 9, 2014

Recently I’ve been getting a lot into the maker community. You know, playing with arduinos, soldering circuits, creating objects that you can’t necessarily buy.

For more about Makers check out:

It’s gotten me thinking about modifiability in products. Is there a point where products are just too generalized and in order to get exactly what you need you have to make it? Product designers are trying to catch the largest portion of their population, right? We use psychology testing and statistics to figure out what that normative part of the population looks like. But makers build things for specific people and specific purposes. They catch all of those outliers that general products don’t cover. For instance, if I make a smart phone with a touch screen, I’m probably going to cater to people with hands and fingers and decent enough eye site. But that excludes amputees and the blind, so I change my design to include the ability to use voice commands with the touch of a button. But that still probably doesn’t capture a number of people who can’t press the button to activate the voice command function. Then what?

I think this is where makers come in. If I have an outlier who is a double arm amputee and can’t hit the button to activate voice commands, a large company really isn’t going to build the smart home just for him/her and a few people like him/her. But a maker might design a button with a bluetooth remote where the person can shrug a shoulder and activate voice commands on the phone. Wouldn’t that be ingenious?? But it would only really be useful for a handful of people, so it’s best left up to the markers perhaps, something so highly specialized that it captures those that general products cannot capture.

So perhaps it’s not modifiable products OR makers, but we really need modifiable products AND makers, to help those users who large companies just can’t build for. What do you think? Are makers a value to product designers? Check out some of the 3D printed prosthetics linked at the end and give me your thoughts on all of this in the comments below.