3-D Printing Pioneer Starts by Letting You Design Eyeglasses
CREDIT: Make Eyewear
Glasses are one of the hardest pieces of apparel to shop for. They are more visible than any other accessory, and their style can define their owners. Frameless and small? Intense businessman. Thick and black? Such a hipster. Circular wire frames? Stop living in the 1960s, you hippie. That self-defining power makes glasses the perfect match for the customization provided by the 3-D printing retailer Make Eyewear.
Founded by David Minich, a 22-year old industrial designer, Make Eyewear will take any glasses frame design, no matter how crude or outlandish, and fabricate it for $450. Users can submit their designs in any form, from a finished 3-D model to collages to scribbled notes, Minich will optimize the schematic for comfort and lens fit, and the one-of-a-kind new pair will arrive in the mail a few weeks later.
"I was looking for a pair of eye glasses, and I didn't find the one I was looking for. So I decided to take what I already know, industrial design, into a product," Minich told InnovationNewsDaily. "I wanted to combine 3-D printing with a real product, products that have a real function. We were just playing around with the technology."
The company currently offers two services: one that sells premade prescription and sunglasses, and the custom service, which allows users to explore their imagination by crafting the most personal, avant-garde or optimized frames they can imagine.
But Make Eyewear is more than simply another service peddling tchotkes over the Internet. Instead, Make Eyewear confronts some of the main intellectual challenges that prevent 3-D printing from achieving its potential. Minich deliberately aims the company to take a stand on such issues as intellectual property, the bias of user-submitted design and the inability of customers to use complex 3-D modeling software.
Currently, advances in 3-D printing have pushed the retail industry into the same position the music industry found itself in ten years ago, and the film industry found itself in a few years ago. Potentially, a customer could send Make Eyewear a design the directly copies a much more expensive pair of designer glasses. However, Minich has set strict guidelines preventing such bootlegging, and protecting the intellectual property of his competitors even in the face of an open source movement.
Three-D printing suffers from a user-based community bias; that is, its most popular designs tend to be of the least usefulness exemplified by the far higher greater number of designs available online for 20-sided dice compared with for forks or key chains. The desire to show off the commercial potential of 3-D printing by producing a widely useful product served as his impetus, Minich said.
Make Eyewear currently offers two services: one that sells premade prescription and sunglasses, and the custom service that allows users to explore their imagination by crafting the most personal, avant-garde or optimized frames they can imagine.
Minich addresses some of the main challenges to the potential growth of the 3-D printing industry, including the issue of intellectual property rights and the inability of customers to use complex 3-D modeling software.
By using his design skills to translate simple sketches, Minich lowers the barrier that would-be designers encounter at other websites, which require particular 3-D software knowledge. Meanwhile, he stands guard against copycat designers. Advances in 3-D printing have pushed the retail industry into the same position the music and film industries found themselves in within the past 10 years, coming up against an open source movement.
Potentially, a customer could send Make Eyewear a design that directly copies an expensive pair of designer glasses. Minich has set strict guidelines to prevent such bootlegging and protect the intellectual property of his competitors.
"We refuse any offers to copy a pair of glasses exactly. They can use a pair of glasses as inspiration, but as an industrial designer myself, I take that very personally. I think that will be a real legal problem moving forward," Minich said. "The biggest obstacle in the future will be for designers to find a new way to differentiate themselves from other services, to bring something new to the table."
So far, the designs submitted to Make Eyewear's custom line will remain largely private, with some of the better designs making their way into a permanent collection pending the designer's approval. Still unsure about instituting a Threadless-style crowdsourcing system, Minich continues to look for a new business model that will serve consumers, provide designers with an outlet that values their work, and leverage this new technology to the full of its potential.
"What I'm trying to emphasize is what designers might be capable of with 3-D printing. These larger companies need to invest a lot of money in new production lines. With 3-D printing, that cost comes way down, which allows you to take many more risks," Minich said.
"I absolutely love 3-D printing, and I want to really make sure it passes on as a new means of production in the mainstream."