Future Makers: How Technology Will Influence the Handmade World

Recently, I got the opportunity to try out Virtual Reality for the first time. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR, you undoubtedly will within the next 12 months. Being fully immersed in a completely unreal space can be overwhelming for the first time, but it soon becomes entirely captivating and fascinating! It got me thinking about how VR and other technological advances are potentially going to seep into all parts of our lives, particularly into the handmade world. The following questions came to mind…

How are these emerging technologies going to influence an artisans work – if at all?

Are they going to improve work practices and speed up the timelines or are they just a further step away from what makes handmade work so magical and authentic?

Could they expand and push the boundaries of artistic expression or will they jeopardize the creation of unique, handcrafted items?

Well, let me take you through some possible answers.

Virtual Reality

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Virtual Reality is undoubtedly the new frontier, as it allows us to have next level interactions and experiences and to visualize things before they exist. The buzz regarding the impending release of consumer version of headsets is escalating, with some voices even comparing VR to a “new” Internet. Although there will be a strong focus on VR in the gaming industry, I believe that it will infiltrate many other fields too.

As a maker, when I start a new project, I first go through a planning phase: what I imagine the item to be like, how it should work, what form it could take. A simple, standard design phase. I generally do this with pad, pen and paper, sketching out the design. Sometimes it works out as planned and sometimes it doesn’t work out at all. Now, if I had the ability to experience my creation in Virtual Reality, to see its entire form in 3D, what effect would that have on my current workflow? Would it allow me to create a more functional product at the end of it all? Quite possibly.

This is all possible as we speak, the technology is here; its just that it isn’t currently accessible to everyone for now. Once it will be, it will open up some exciting opportunities in the planning stage, very early in the creative process.

Sure, it may not apply to everyone’s type of artistry, but visualizing a piece prior to actually producing it will allow most makers to become more efficient and to deliver more functional products.

3D Printing

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This is a technological game changer. From fine mechanical parts and life-saving medical devices to jewelry or even to entire houses – the range of things that can be 3D printed is truly astonishing. In time, I’m sure this will seep into our lives in many different ways, as materials become cheaper and printers becomes more efficient.

Anyone can print a brass necklace in the comfort of their own home if they make a small investment in a printer. Alternatively, they can even access online platforms that allow a design to be uploaded, printed and shipped.

Some makers perceive this as a threat. Indeed, 3D printing does take the handy work out from jewelry-making. However, if we look beyond face value, here’s what 3D printing could do for you as a maker…

Well, it can allow you to make literally ANYTHING. You could essentially make any household item, a vase, forks, plates, mugs. Meaning: products that stand at the core of most artisan small businesses and their mass produced counterparts. This kind of technology could become the artisans best friend.

Sure, it does not replace the human element in a beautifully handcrafted mug or an elegantly designed ceramic plate. But, what it does do, is push you further in becoming an independent and self-sustaining individual. That is incredibly powerful and, if you take a moment, you can really start to imagine the possibilities.

Holographics and Augmented Reality

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Okay, so here is one that got me thinking! It may not directly impact your workflow as a maker, but lets look at how these ideas could apply to you as a business owner/operator. Augmented reality, for those who don’t know, is defined as a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image onto a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view”. The use of such technologies could potentially allow you to solve customer queries in person. It may be a while away, but we have signs that it’s heading in this direction, with Skype and Microsoft already making progress with the HoloLens and 3D conferencing.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but if you revisit the core values of what it means to be a maker, you’ll remember that it’s all about how you approach the making of a product, the experience it provides and what you are like as an individual. And beyond that, it’s about how your creation and your story connects with a potential client.

It’s all about being personal!

These new means of communication will allow that to happen, even if you are running a business remotely. It gives you the opportunity to carry the experience all the way through. So, imagine being able to appear in front of your client, in their own home, in order to answer their questions directly. Kinda creepy to some, maybe, but amazing nevertheless. Technology is all about connections. When used correctly, it enhances the way we connect with one another. And, if you think about it, the connection between the creation process, your product and the person who is lucky enough to receive it is at the core of what it means to be a maker.

Therefore, although technology can seem to be an artisan’s worst nightmare, when it is framed correctly and taken from a positive perspective, it opens up amazing new possibilities for a handmade entrepreneur to combine the new with the old.

After all, the beauty of the handmade world is simply about bringing together the best from the past and from the future.