Building Better 3D Printers

Form 2 with 3D print closeup

Developing a new style of 3D printing involves upending expectations and interfaces between users, products and hardware. Affordable stereolithography systems were first introduced by Formlabs, which was immediately faced with the challenge of simplifying an industrial process for novice users seeking an “it just works” experience.

Shortly after joining Formlabs, I identified the need to bring user research into to product design cycle.

As a startup, Formlabs began by shipping the minimum viable product and engaging users to upgrade and patch the hardware through improved software, guidance and UI. The “ship first” strategy is particularly effective with legions of experienced, dedicated users excited about exploring a new technology. They can be quite vocal about strengths and shortcomings, but following up on the feedback helps to quickly iterate on a product in short order.

  • I joined a startup creating a new desktop 3D printer and served as a design lead for user interface improvements.
  • Product Designer tasked with identifying user problems, prototyping solutions and delivering new features.
  • Worked within a multidisciplinary team of engineers, developers as product designer to implement redesign of software and physical interfaces.
Interviewing industrial designers from shops at Tesla and Quirky quickly exposed pain points in the usability of the Kickstarter-backed Form 1 and Form 1+ printers.
Running workshops with negligent users is an informative way to reveal hardware UX weaknesses. In this example many machines sit dormant in the Fluid Interfaces group of the MIT Media Lab after use for demo day.
Through prototyping, a wireframe was proposed for the development team to create an improved instructional user flow.
When a print is complete, users are confronted with the task of self-finishing the print. Workshops helped identify pain points in the finishing process.
Manually removing a printed part from a build platform can be difficult due to extreme forces required. The part is bonded to the aluminum build plate, making removal dangerous.
Based on our observations, we designed a generated detachment target to aid the user in placing their tool.
Iteration and testing resulted in a reinforced "nook", creating a location for a user to dock a tool and detach parts through a low-force twisting motion.
The most satisfying result is seeing what users could do with this new tool. In this case detailed, multipart assemblies made by product designers to create an internal suturing device to assist doctors with surgery.