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Communications of the ACM


What Can the Maker Movement Teach Us About the Digitization of Creativity?

3D printer in action

Credit:Asharkyu / Shutterstock

In recent years, the 'maker movement' has emerged as a social phenomenon driven by novel technological possibilities.1 With the help of inexpensive, yet highly versatile means of production (for example, CNC milling machines, 3D printers) and easy-to-use software tools, makers free themselves from their traditional role as passive consumers and evolve into innovators and producers. Although the act of physical production seems to be at the center of the movement, a large part of the creative work takes place in the online sphere. These digital activities and their outcomes provide a rich source of information that can be used to gain a more nuanced understanding of how the digitization affects the creative process itself.

Of all the production methods available to makers, 3D printing is probably the most versatile and requires only a limited understanding of the production process. Several 3D design software packages allow even lay people to turn their ideas into printable designs. This combination of flexibility and usability has led to an abundance of 3D object models over the past years, which are shared and jointly refined with the community on digital maker platforms. As part of a multi-year research project on the use of 3D printing by the maker community, we found that the use of these platforms in the creative process blurs the boundaries between the digital and the physical and ultimately changes the way ideas are expressed, curated, and eventually translated into physical reality. In particular, we saw how makers with entirely different backgrounds (for example, HW/SW developers, designers, business and social entrepreneurs) traverse across the startup world, software development, and open online communities, to combine concepts through a novel digitized creative process.


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