DIY Manufacturing

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In 2010 the TikTok made headlines when it pre-sold nearly a million dollars worth of iPod watchbands directly to the public. In a world of Apple, Google, and Microsoft, how could some guy in Chicago do such a thing? The breakout success brought a wave of designers and first-time manufacturers to Kickstarter in 2011.

Typically product design is a corporate-dominated market, but Kickstarter products were made by real people we met in homemade videos. In project updates they shared the thrills of achievement and the headaches of learning-as-you-go. Backing a product was as much an experience as it was making a purchase. The process was part of the reward.

When product design was a hit, it was a hit — more than 30 product design projects raised six figures in 2011. Coffee lovers marveled at the Coffee Joulies. Filmmakers rallied around CineSkates. The Camera Capture Clip found support from thousands of photographers. The Revolights and TiGr were hits with bicyclists. The PadPivot landed in Best Buy. Windowfarms made anyone an urban farmer.

Designers with off-beat products also made an impact. There were wooden desktop trebuchets, a three-stringed guitar, and an annual clock. People backed jellyfish tanks, imaginary marching bands, physical GIFs, LPs lasercut into 3D dinosaur puzzles, and an alert system for the International Space Station. The Design category was anything but predictable.

At the core of Design were the makers. They made stuff so other people could make stuff, whether it was an arduino mod for game designers, a modular system for solar-powered electronics, a 3D printer, or the irresistible Twine. Their projects turned backers into creators.

Projects turned backers into manufacturers, too. They commissioned thousands of Cosmonauts, HexBrights, and Elevation Docks from manufacturers in the US and around the world. Their pledges reopened factories and launched small businesses along the way. In 2011, “mass-production” didn’t just describe the assembly line’s output. It described how the crowd made it happen, too.

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