UX Designers should be 3d-printing!

Photo by ZMorph Multitool 3D Printer on Unsplash

All product people should have a 3d printer

I’m a geek at heart, and love fidgeting around with stuff, taking stuff apart and repairing them. So I got a 3d printer earlier this year — I know, I’m late to the party, but I’m glad I showed up! :-)

Here’s why product people should be 3d printing

A 3d-printer puts you in total control of an entire product development cycle, from initial idea to concrete design, to production, and finally to a product being put to use. So you get to make all the decisions — and more importantly: you also get to see very quickly whether those decisions were good or bad! (news flash: not all design decisions are good!) :)

Cultivating a “fail fast” mindset

Let’s take a practical example: I recently designed an arcade controller with 4 mm holes. The screws didn’t fit, because they needed 0.4 mm extra clearance. So I spent 5 hours and 40 meters of PLA printing an object, and the damn screws didn’t fit!

Tolerance testing tool

So what IS a fail fast mindset?

You could describe it as a way of thinking where:

  • You are aware that your design decisions aren’t always great
  • You identify your assumptions
  • You are aware that assumptions and your designs need to be tested
  • You identify and break down problems to test them with the least amount of effort — i.e. you don’t do a 5-hour print if 20 minutes can resolve a question or validate an assumption)
  • You work towards an MVP — i.e. you don’t spend more resources than you have to … you don’t print a 6cm object if a 3cm object is enough.

In conclusion

Obviously, things in the real world are complex and messy — and in many ways the exact opposite of the simple process when you’re 3d-printing:

  • Estimates in the real world are difficult and often not very accurate.
  • Despite being agile, a lot of time passes between making a decision and seeing the consequences.
  • Usually there isn’t a linear relationship between the complexity of a development task, and the amount of time / resources needed to execute it.

Thanks for reading!

So what’s next? Well, why not use 3d-printing as a team exercise? Take a few hours to come up with a practical need you want to serve. Then design a thing, print it, test it, and reflect on the process using some of these questions:

  • Did you solve the right problem? — i.e. “could the need we defined be served in another way?”
  • What assumptions did you make? — i.e. “what did you “know” to be true?”
  • Did your assumptions hold up? — i.e. “what did your learn, how did your views change between then and now?”
  • Did your design work? — i.e. “how did your product perform when put to the test?”
  • How would you change the design if you could go back in time? — i.e. “given what you’ve learned now, how would you iterate your design now?”
  • Could your design have been more efficient in terms of time spent and material use? — i.e. “did you produce an MVP or not?”



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UX Designer, illustrator & terrible musician. I write mainly about sketching + prototyping, and about design in general.