Reinventing the Gadgets of Your Conference Using 3D Printing

January 24, 2010

in Gadgets / SWAG, Ideas

Photo by makerbot

Photo by makerbot

Many events have the habit of  distributing crappy & useless gadgets, often provided by the sponsors. It gets even worse when attendees get to fight for them (I’ve seen men in suits which -directly or indirectly- had payed more than 2.000 USD for a ticket fighting over who got a cheap cap with the BMW brand on it).

Such a practice greatly hurts the experience of your conference, it says “I don’t care” or “I was to lazy to make something innovative” and in the end transmits a negative -mediocre- feeling. In a way, the only [physical] things that the event leaves you is a cheap one (apart from the memories in your head). Plus in many cases it’s not green nor ethical: many of those gadgets are hardly recyclable, have a short lifespan and a very low cost because they are being produced in a sweatshop in some poor country.

You might argue “everybody does it so why not me?”. Well -I’d answer- because you care about details and want to innovate on just another bad practice.

T-shirt made with reused yarn (by Muji)

T-shirt made with reused yarn (by Muji)

I do appreciate when an event gives away a nice or useful product (like the classy Monocle notebook given out at a Monocle magazine meetup). In the past I’ve given out BlackBerries and iPods as a special offer promotional gadget (of the kind “if you buy by a give date you get a BlackBerry – it was a corporate event). Other gadgets I usually like are stickers or T-shirts (with logo, date and country) that act as a stamp  that shows that your participation. If it’s about T-shirts, please make them of good quality… and why not from organic cotton or recycled yarn?.

3D printed gadgets

3D printing has been around for many years and now the entrance barrier is becoming much lower and accessible to broader masses. My interest in 3D printing has been pumped up by the near future scenario described in Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, Makers (Amazon link), and a short conversation with Marleen Stikker (co-founder of PICNIC festival, founder and director of the Waag Society which hosts the FabLab dedicated to 3D printing).

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by successive layers of material […]. 3D printers offer product developers the ability to print parts and assemblies made of several materials with different mechanical and physical properties in a single build process. Advanced 3D printing technologies yield models that closely emulate the look, feel and functionality of product prototypes. (source: Wikipedia)

A short research showed that there are dozens of companies dedicated to 3D printing (like Shapeways) and the idea that came out together with Marleen is to produce a 3D printed gadget for PICNIC Festival 2010 (of which I’m the Marketing Manager). While I am still exploring the possibilities and should visit some production facilities soon, there are the key motivations to pursue this project:

  • 3D printing is the future. Still a niche but rapidly spreading and one day we’ll have a 3D printer in every house
  • This is an innovative technology that will give place to an original gadget with the added value of the history behind it
  • The product/s can be designed by the community of our event. If your attendees are not the kind that can design a product then you can always refer to the growing networks of designers or build on top of the many open source blueprints available online
  • Production of big quantities is enabled by distributed production. Just in Amsterdam there are tens of 3D labs. If each one has a production capacity of 100 objects per unit of time, 10 of them combined can deliver 1.000 products in the same period

Some product ideas: iPhone (or other mobile phone) covers, stamps, key-chains or mini sculptures, personalized housings for USB keys (see photos below for some 3D printed examples).

Take the time to explain -maybe on stage- the nature of these gadgets to your audience. Make them know that they are touching a concrete example of the future that’s coming. Show them the process from the idea to the delivered product.

If instead you decide not to innovate or maybe don’t have the money, then tell your audience that you’re not handing out low quality gadgets because you think it’s not right. They will appreciate.

iPhone cover by Freedon of Creation

iPhone cover by Freedon of Creation

USB case by Freedom of Creation

USB case by Freedom of Creation

Key-chain designed by dizingof on Shapeways (doubles as iPhone charger)

Key-chain designed by dizingof on Shapeways (doubles as iPhone charger)

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