Next Generation Product Development Tools – Part 22

While “mere apprehension of using a 3D application is no longer an issue preventing them from attempting to learn” (reLink), there is still the issue of learning.

So, picking up from where I left off, at this stage one major issue would seem to be educating people in the use of next generation product development tools.

Then again, maybe it’s not as big a hurdle as one might expect.

Educating People on Product Development Processes and Tools

When most people use the word “educate” it’s still in the context of institutionalized education. Conventional wisdom suggests that in order to get an education one must sit attentively at a desk, pay close attention to a teacher, and take examinations testing whether one has sufficiently acquired the information. That’s the drill. However, used in its broadest sense, we’re all being educated every day and in every way.

In his book, The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman includes a chapter titled “Knowledge in the Head and in the World”. Institutionalized learning is largely what is meant by “in the Head”, as it involves developing rote skills and significant amounts of memorization. This is in contrast to the kind of learning a child receives, say, by poking a finger into a standard electrical outlet at home, which is knowledge acquired “in the World”.

I learned to type without looking at a keyboard by taking a class which forced me to memorize the locations of the keys. Those who’ve not gone through a similar educational process depend on the keys being labeled and deriving information to operate a keyboard from “the World”.

Like most things, there’s a fuzzy boundary between the two – the Head and the World – and I’d venture both “serious games” and not-so-serious games operate somewhere in that inherently undefinable zone.


While going through some unread feeds I came across this entry on Virtual World News for what sounds like a not-so-serious game which undoubtedly has serious educational potential, “Webcarzz on Building Virtual Worlds for Boys” (Link). From the entry:

Users will be able to build their own cars, molding them from shapes into wholly unique creations that they can move into the play environment, promises Webcarzz. Once users are in the world, they’ll be able to work on the cars in their garages and customize them further. That offers opportunity for the shared creation and socialization of other virtual worlds

If you’re a product developer, chew on that for a few minutes.

Yes, Webcarzz is primitive. But what kind of computer modeling were you doing between 6 and 12 years of age? When I was 12, the very idea of a “personal computer” was outrageous and impractical. Even at 18, I knew no one who could conceive of a good reason anyone would ever need or want to own a personal computer. The early 1980’s seem so long ago, don’t they?

Assuming most of you reading this aren’t in Webcarzz’s target market, imagine what you might have learned had you grown up in a time where designing and assembling your own car was a mere videogame, and you put your design to the test by competing in a simulation with other players from around the world. Further imagine you could have your design assembled at the local toy store, which is what Ridemakerz is offering.

When I was a kid, you were blessed to have a Corgi and a “real dirt” sandbox. What children have available to them today is beyond what most educator’s could even dream just 10 or 15 years ago. Knowledge which was effectively limited to higher education is now increasingly free for the playing. This, to coin an over-used phrase, changes everything.

At some point in the not-too-distant future children will be modeling their own cars using a web-based application, playing with them in an online virtual world, sharing/selling components, and even sending their designs to rapid-manufacturing shops for fabrication. They may even be setting up their own 3D fabrication shopfronts ala Shapeways and marketing their own brands online, after which they’ll take their 3D printed toys outside to play in a “real dirt” sandbox (which could very well have sensors documenting/scanning their real constructions for later use).

Sound compelling?

Okay, let’s look at Second Life now (I can hear the groans of the macho CAD guys).

As I stated in my last entry, this series was inspired by seeing non-professional designers figuring out how to use embedded virtual tools to make virtual fashion accessories. To rephrase what I wrote above: imagine someone “modeling their own [fashions] using a web-based application, playing with them in an online virtual world, sharing/selling components, and even sending their designs to rapid-manufacturing shops for fabrication.”

Same sentence. Different thing. I could substitute “fashions” with appliances, tennis shoes, electronics or houses. Whatever. Because it’s not the product that matters, it’s the process. It’s not just the activity at issue, it’s the underlying education derived from the activity.

And all of this is already happening … has been happening … for some time in Second Life. More importantly, there is something else happening which isn’t especially obvious. I’ll touch on that next.

{Image Copyright © 2009 Webcarzz, Inc.}

4 thoughts on “Next Generation Product Development Tools – Part 22

  1. I really love this post.

    By chance, have you read Steven Berlin Johnson’s book?—
    Everything Bad is Good for You

    Last year Bill Gates asked a question on LinkedIn’s Q&A:
    How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?

    One part of my reply included this:

    > In yesterday’s hype over the virtual world, Second Life, I was
    > disappointed that not enough was made about the complexity
    > of the user generated content of its young members. Some of
    > the math involved goes beyond the elementary. Where else can
    > you find kids learning the basics of particle-physics, you know,
    > “for fun.” We have not seen the last of virtual worlds, where
    > much street-cred is distributed on the merits of technical
    > wizardry. While the hype may have faded, I’m still bullish on
    > the future of virtual worlds, and their potential in the field of
    > education.

    I also grew up in the 80s, but I diverge from you in my youthful computer experience. I got my first computer (VIC-20) in the early 80s, complete with a CompuServe internet account. But my experience was unique.

    Children today do have so much more exposure to technology.

    We are looking at a future of custom fabrication. I believe it was Motorola who had a Sim in Second Life where users could design ideas/suggestion for future products. I can see a day where a variety of product components and features could be offered a la carte, and users could custom configure their feature-set and design. Today you see websites for automobiles that let users “build” their car, picking out colors, upholstery fabrics, option packages, etc., and then saving them for order. I can see this being done on a much more sophisticated scale over a long list of products. And users who master the technique of product customization could then offer their “line” of a given product, and receive a commission on sales.

  2. No, I’ve not read the book. I’m currently compiling lists of books I want to read, so I’ll have to add it.

    Regarding your LinkedIn reply, you’ll enjoy the next entry (which remains in the cue until I give it a thorough proofing). In it’s present form it’s very much in line with your thinking.

    As to growing up in the 80’s, we actually diverge at that point, since I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. My aerospace studies began in ’81, including writing programs on punchcards and mainframe terminals; the “micro-computers” were still viewed with suspicion by many of us. Laughable now.

    I recall the effort you cite; don’t believe it was Motorola. It was, however, a Motorola competitor. It’ll come to me. I never did see the results of that competition though (I should inquire).

    With regard to custom fabrication, I’m bullish as well. I think the tech is a foregone conclusion which is why the design of the business models has garnered so much of my interest.

  3. Glad you found it of interest, John. Hopefully I’ll slowly be giving your RSS reader something more on which to feed. Plenty of things are on my mind, but I’m determined to not write about anything else until this series is complete (which probably explains my relatively heavy Twitter use).

Comments are closed.