Makers vs. Designers in the Third Industrial Revolution

Fig. 1 3D Printed representation of Brett Ryder's illustration for The Economist, titled Third Industrial Revolution, by XYZWorkshop, available for purchase online. 

Fig. 1 3D Printed representation of Brett Ryder's illustration for The Economist, titled Third Industrial Revolution, by XYZWorkshop, available for purchase online. 



The rise of the internet and the development of new digital technologies has created what Chris Anderson (2010) refers to as the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’, and is democratising our ability to create, manufacture and distribute, and is fundamentally changing the design industry. Connected through the internet, everyone can now access the tools and infrastructure to manufacture and distribute physical things. This has empowered the Maker Movement, a new generation of DIYers capable of producing physical things at a quality comparable to the artisan, and at a quantity comparable to traditional industrial mass manufacture. As everyone gains the ability to be a producer, it becomes apparent that they also gain the need to design. This increasing ability for any individual to manufacture and distribute their own ‘designs’ raises the question, what is the role of the Designer in a time when everyone can be a Maker? The industrial design industry must reconsider their role and embrace the new opportunities offered by the Third Industrial Revolution to avoid becoming the Luddites of the 21st century

"Today, the world is changing rapidly, and so too are designers who continually adapt to these changes to define new roles for themselves” - Lauren Tan


Fig. 2 Luddites destroying the power loom that threatened to replace their craft, 1812.

Prior to the first Industrial Revolution of the mid eighteenth century, the creation of goods was purely the domain of craftsmen/women - artisans who designed and crafted goods by hand. The first Industrial Revolution saw the mass uptake of the machine, automating the previously manual tasks of production and dividing labour. The work of skilled artisans could be achieved by lesser skilled, more productive labourers which cost many artisan workers their jobs, and led to the Luddite movement. The Luddites believed the new technology was denying them their craft, and they attacked the factories, destroying the machines that threatened their trade. The term ‘Luddite’ has since developed to mean, as the Oxford Dictionary defines, “a person opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general”.

However, if we understand craft, as McCullough (1996) states, as “the application of personal knowledge to the giving of form”, then we could contend that the first Industrial Revolution did not eliminate craft. It reimagined craft, and the machines of the first Industrial Revolution became the tools with which to craft. The manufacture of goods transformed a process of crafting products to constructing processes. It could therefore be said that the job of the artisan transformed into the job of the industrial designer.

When mass manufacture was introduced during the Second Industrial Revolution of the ninetieth century it allowed products to be produced cheaply in large quantities. The resources and machines of mass manufacture cost millions and the ability to manufacture was therefore largely controlled by industries and corporations (Gershenfeld cited in Troxler, 2013). These corporations were the gate keepers who had the power to decide what should be manufactured, and what should not. Within this new industry the job of the industrial designer was to design the products and the processes through which these products would be manufactured, applying specific knowledge of processes, materials, ergonomics and cultures to the products they designed. 

However the manufacture of bespoke and small run designs still required artisans. These were skilled craftsmen/women with a deep understanding of their craft built up over years of training. Crafts, such as drawing or carving, traditionally required an estimated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach a stage of mastery (Gladwell, 2008). A high level of skill, including historical, cultural and environmental understanding, would develop over the time invested in achieving mastery. It was this personal knowledge that allowed the artisan to craft the object (McCullough, 1996).

After the Second Industrial Revolution it could be said that the industrial designer was in a powerful position to influence the designs that were produced for the mass market, while the artisans dominated the micro market.

“Transformative change happens when industries democratise” - Chris Anderson

Fig. 3 A skilled artisan crafting a Buddha figure. 

Fig. 3 A skilled artisan crafting a Buddha figure. 

Fig. 4 Multiple identical Buddha figures manufactured through CNC machinery.  

Fig. 4 Multiple identical Buddha figures manufactured through CNC machinery.  

We are now entering the Third Industrial Revolution, marked by the democratisation of the tools of creation, the means of production and the structure of distribution (Anderson, 2012; Troxler, 2013). Anderson (2012) observes that “transformative change happens when industries democratise”. The entertainment, publishing and broadcasting industries fundamentally changed with the introduction of the internet. In the music industry piracy became the ‘new radio’, in publishing blogs are displacing traditional print media, and in broadcasting YouTube videos are attracting much of the public broadcast audience (Troxler, 2013). These industries digitised, allowing their information to be shared over the internet. With the rise of computerised numerical control (CNC) technology, design and manufacture is digitising. A design can be converted into a digital file and shared over the internet, just as text, audio, and video before. The internet can now democratise the creation of physical things and the democratisation of manufacture is similarly leading to a transformative change within the design industry.

As a result of digital manufacture, skill is no longer a prerequisite to craft and anyone can now almost instantly match the aesthetic ‘craft’ of the artisan. Computer aided design programs such as Solidworks, and digital CNC manufacture such as lathes, milling machines and 3D printers remove the need for the skilled hand. Anything that can be drawn in software can now be crafted in the physical world.

Where previously the ability to mass manufacture was controlled by industry, the worlds factories are increasingly opening up as internet based services, offering on-demand digital manufacture (Bella, 2015). Digital manufacture offers new possibilities for distributed manufacture and allows bespoke designs to be manufactured at mass manufacture scale (Anderson, 2012). Where traditional centralised manufacture required specific moulds and tooling for production of identical designs, distributed manufacture decentralises traditional manufacturing. Networked through the internet, it is now possible to manufacture a multitude of different designs, on demand, in the country of consumption. This reduces or even removes tooling, itemising, storage and transport costs allowing smaller volume designs to be manufactured cheaper than traditional high-volume manufacturing (Bella, 2015).

While manufacture is becoming decentralised, the marketplace is becoming centralised. With sellers and buyers progressively making more transactions through the internet, the opportunities to buy and sell independent design grows. While physical stores are limited to carrying products that are popular enough to supply or manufacture for a mass market, the online stores are not limited by ‘shelf space’ (Anderson, 2012). The online store can theoretically carry an infinite number of products, catering to the mass, and ever growing expanse of micro, markets. Where the physical store may only carry a limited selection of products, the internet holds a selection of thousands artisan alternatives. Online stores such as, crowdfunding websites such as and manufacture bureaus such as, offer anyone the ability to buy and sell on the global market.

Digital design, digital manufacture and digital distribution allow anyone to create, produce, and sell their own designs at a scale and price competitive to traditional mass manufacture. This massive shift in power blurs the line between producer and consumer, between professional and amateur, and empowers the independent designers and Makers.

“The designer-producer is making a comeback” - Peter Troxler

Fig. 5 Maker bot open source 3D printer is just one of the many tools that empower the maker.

Fig. 5 Maker bot open source 3D printer is just one of the many tools that empower the maker.

The Maker Movement has sprung out of the Third Industrial Revolution and is “industrialising the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) spirit” (Anderson, 2012). The Maker Movement can be seen as an evolution of DIY (Samtani, 2013), traditionally seen as a private/individual activity often done out of necessity, today we see DIY moving into the public sphere. Connected through the internet, the modern day DIYer, or Maker, can create, share, modify, collaborate, and distribute designs with a click (Anderson, 2010).

The Maker Movement is at the forefront of utilising the tools offered by the Third Industrial Revolution, including open source technologies such as 3D printers and Arduino micro controllers (see Figs. 5 & 6) and internet distribution channels such as As Makers are not confined by tradition, or the need to be commercial, they are championing the use of these new tools to design, manufacture, and sell their small run designs at a price comparable to traditional large scale manufacture. Corporations and designers working within industry may find it hard to see how this technology could change how they, or the industry, works in the future. As Naboni and Paoletti (2015, p.15) states, “conventional companies do not recognise the new means of production as a potential game changer in the next economy of production”. While traditional industrial design is still largely relevant and influential to contemporary material culture, the industry must not ignore the massive change brought on by the Third Industrial Revolution. Industrial designers have an opportunity to respond, and harness the energy of this movement or may risk following path of the Luddites before them.

“We are all designers now” - Chris Anderson

Fig. 7 Consumer ‘designed’ rings created through the custom ring creator app.

Fig. 7 Consumer ‘designed’ rings created through the custom ring creator app.

Design no longer needs to be globalised to fit the traditional model of mass manufacture, the Third Industrial Revolution and distributed manufacture also offer the possibility of distributed design. While the Industrial Revolution unified manufacture to a one-size fits-all mentality, the Third Industrial Revolution is moving back to a more artisanal, made-to-order view. No longer limited to the talents of a single company, through distributed design consumers now have access to a multitude of designers, tastes and styles, that better fit their niche (Bella, 2015). With international brands distributing international design, there was a danger that the globalisation of design would leading towards a global culture. As Robert L. Peters is quoted, “Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future”. However distributed design and manufacture offer a way that design can be culturally specific, enabling localised specific design as well as catering to subcultures that are not situated in the same geographic location.

Individuals are already experiencing a more personalised consumer experience. Digital mediums such as can recommend content to its viewers, personalised specifically to the viewing habits of an individual. As consumers begin to expect personalisation of digital content, they will also begin to expect this same level of personalisation in their physical products. Complex mass produced products such as mobile phones, appliances or possibly even automobiles no longer need to be constrained to a globalised design. Distributed design offers opportunities for local designers to contribute to the local iteration of an otherwise global product. While the majority of core components may remain unified, the design of the exterior form, interactions and ergonomics may be localised to the country or culture of production.

Industrial designers can support a new role, facilitating the army of Makers to individualise mass manufacture.. Industrial designers can create the means through which the Maker can create while, as Peter Weijmarshausen CEO of, puts it, “feel like a designer” (cited in Bella, 2015). An example of this is 3D printing bureau’s Easy Creator Apps (see Fig. 7), which offer a platform for designers to distribute customisable products. Through industrial designed software, Makers can customise individualised designs for the market, or one-offs for themselves, while keeping within the confines set by the designer. This new technology offers the opportunity for bespoke products to be produced at mass manufacture scale. The era of unified mass manufacture may be coming to an end.

Just as the role of the artisan transitioned from crafting products to constructing processes during the Industrial Revolution, it appears the role of the industrial designer today is transitioning into the role of a design thinker, applying their specific knowledge to a broader range of applications. Industrial designers are positioning themselves as facilitators, directors, project managers and innovators. Through constructing new process and tools of creation and creating and managing the infrastructure of manufacture and distribution, the industrial designer is working at the intersection of creativity, culture and commerce, connecting Designers, Makers and Companies in this new democratised space. 




Anderson, C. (2012). Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. Crown PublishingGroup, New York

Bella, D. (2015, May 12). Distributed manufacturing: A 21st century renaissance? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Biggs, J. (2014, March 24). Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen To Talk About The Future Of 3D Printing At Disrupt NY 2014. [Interview]. Retrieved from

Geyer M. (2015, August 9). Hardware Incubators Are Critical To The Future Of Making Things. Retrieved from

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK.

High, P. (2014, August 25). Yves Béhar Is The Most Influential Industrial Designer In The World. [Interview]. Retrieved from

McCullough, M. (1996). Abstracting craft the practiced digital hand (pp. 19-29). Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press

Naboni, R., & Paoletti, I. (2015). The Third Industrial Revolution. In Advanced Customization in Architectural Design and Construction (pp. 7-27). Springer International Publishing. New York.

Samtani, H. (2013, June 19). Meet the Makers: Can a DIY movement revolutionize how we learn? Retrieved from

Tan, L. (2002, September 4). Perspectives on the changing role of the designer: past present and to the future. Retrieved from 

Troxler, P. (2013). Making the 3rd industrial revolution. In FabLabs: Of machines, makers and inventors. Transcript Publishers, Bielefeld. Retrieved from


List of Images:

Fig. 1. 3D Printed representation of Brett Ryder's illustration for The Economist, titled Third Industrial Revolution, by XYZWorkshop, available for purchase online. Retrieved from

Fig. 2. Luddites destroying the power loom that threatened to replace their craft, 1812. (18Retrieved from

Fig. 3. A skilled artisan crafting a Buddha figure. Retrieved from

Fig. 4. Multiple identical Buddha figures manufactured through CNC machinery. Retrieved from 

Fig. 5. Maker bot open source 3D printer. Retrieved from

Fig. 6. Arduino open source micro controller are just a few of the tools that empower the maker. Retrieved from

Fig. 7. Consumer ‘designed’ rings created through the custom ring app. Retrieved from

Makers vs. Designers - research and essay, 2015
Project: Victoria University (4 weeks)