Yesterday, I spent way too much time playing with the Spore Creature Creator. It's fun, it's clever, EA and Will Wright are going to make shedloads of cash... you can read about all that on the rest of the Internet. But more than that a whole bunch of people that wouldn't otherwise have contemplated it are going to have fun while remixing parametric 3D models. I think the implications of this for design are enormous. FluidForms is just the start. As these tools become more pervasive and accessible the ability to remix and remake our surroundings will only increase. Will that make things better? Of course not, like most of the creatures in Spore most of it is bound for an unplayed-with, dusty corner of the digital toy box or maybe the design equivalent of a Darwin Award. But just maybe it also means that some things will see the light of day that otherwise wouldn't get a look in.
The growth in ownership of relatively powerful, cheap, personal computers and the parallel upsurge in use of and access to the Internet (at least in the industrialised world) has transformed the means by which we communicate, carry out work and entertain ourselves. This has also brought about greatly enhanced functionality for traditional design techniques, helping practitioners from many areas to bring their ideas to fruition with increased speed and productivity.
Over the past decade we have witnessed an unprecedented development and increased accessibility of CAD/CAM technologies. With the adoption of 3D modelling software, CNC machines and rapid prototyping and manufacturing technologies makers have unprecedented opportunities to design objects that circumvent traditional haptic, craft-based skill sets. These technologies have brought about the opportunity for practitioners with no background in engineering to make use of these them. Not everyone welcomes this.
The pragmatic aspect of increased speed and productivity in the use of these technologies is important to all users. However, the conceptual realisations and the possibility of making innovative types of object for new forms of audience or market are of equal importance but are perhaps less immediately apparent. With the availability of these computer-based technologies, practitioners are confronted with decreased concerns of 'how' to physically make something and a greater opportunity to engage with 'what' that object is.
The ability to generate construction information directly from design information has fundamentally changed the relationship between conception and production for many practitioners. CAD was initially an assistive technology that enhanced the existing practices of design – an electronic replacement for pencil and paper. This has rapidly evolved beyond what you can do (easily) with pencil and paper (e.g. computer-based visualization processes such as animation and photorealistic rendering). What we see happening currently goes beyond merely designing things to designing the systems that allow things to come into being. Practitioners I have mentioned here recently (and many others) are doing this: Automake, FutureFactories and THEVERYMANY.
Anyway, my point is maybe I wasn't actually goofing off yesterday when I was playing with the Spore Creature Creator. Maybe I just have to redefine what 'work' can be?