Remember when the invention of high-quality printers, Adobe Postscript, and design software brought publishing to the desktop? No longer did you need to rely on experts to design your newsletters, presentations, and brochures. Individuals were empowered to do more on their own in their offices.
That thought came to mind when I read about what’s happening at the Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. They’ve created the first “makerspace” in the country for care providers. Called the MakerHealth™ Space at UTMB in John Sealy Hospital, their announcement said it would allow nurses, doctors, and other medical staff to develop their ideas for improving healthcare.
They went on to say that, “Over the past two years, MakerNurse has uncovered resourceful nurses across the country who are hacking the supply closet and using everyday materials to improve upon and create new tools and devices that lead to better ways of caring for patients. Cough pillows made out of hospital blankets wrapped in medical tape, tactile patient call buttons using tongue depressors and pieces of silk—these are just some of the simple fixes made by nurses that ensure patient comfort and safety.”
From my years in consumer product development, I know some of the best ideas come, not from engineers or large companies, but from those individuals performing day-to-day tasks who often create new ways to do their job. These people have unique insights and a passion to solve a problem or do something better, and see it differently than others. But they’re rarely versed in the area of product development and shepherding their ideas all the way to the market.
Following the conventional product development route is not something most of these individuals can afford to get into without giving up their jobs and needing a huge amount of capital. The process is long, arduous and expensive, and few succeed. I’ve come across too many would-be inventors who ploughed their life savings into getting a patent or who were taken to the cleaners by one of the fraudulent invention submission companies. But perhaps this is all changing, as exemplified by MakerNurse.
New technology over the past few decades has brought us a long way towards simplifying the design and building of products. In electronics, we’ve gone from discrete components to integrated circuits to chips that contain an array of capabilities. We even have chips containing a complete computer or phone. That makes it easier for the less experienced to develop products by assembling these building blocks like Legos.
In mechanics, 3D printing equipment is simplifying building physical parts. No longer do you need to use a model maker or create costly tooling to build mechanical parts.
3D printers, design software, and other tools are moving from being used by experts to almost anyone, just as occurred in the days of desktop publishing. As a result, opportunity opens up for those with little product development experience.
As for funding these ideas, there’s even a replacement for the professional investor, using crowdfunding (such as Kickstarter) where which people with common interests band together to fund the development of a product.
But we still have a long way to go. Current capabilities limit the complexity of the products that can be done and I can’t imagine ever eliminating the need for talented designers, engineers, and manufacturers and, of course, professional investors. Just as graphic designers are still needed to create professional content, we still need product development and manufacturing experts for most products.
Like most things in high tech, desktop product development will likely take a long time to become common practice. But this trend towards putting creative power into more people’s hands is coming. That has to be better for the world.