Shapeways.com is a 3D printing service and community marketplace. While the business now focuses on serving professionals, back in 2011, 3D-printing was still seen as a very consumer thing.
As the first product designer hired at Shapeways.com, I was tasked with lowering the barrier to creating your own design and explore how the platform could enable people to create products instead of prints.
Logically, while many visitors were interested in 3D printing, in order to actually make something of your own through the site, you have to upload a 3D model, which is a really high technical barrier.
I led product initiatives on customization and the developer API, as well as completing various design projects to improve the company brand prior to the full rebranding effort completed in 2012.
Shapeways had recently released 3D-printed ceramic. Fully glazed and food-safe, it was arguably the material that produced a result most comparable to a consumer product.
I designed and coded this web app to make it easy to create custom ceramic cups. The app generates a valid 3D model for printing with correct wall thickness geometry.
It happens to make sake sets and espresso cups rather well since 3D printing ceramic gets pricey for making a full size mug.
The ceramic creator was well received among design blogs and it served as a good API example, but it didn’t result in many sales.
We resolved that we should create a specific customizable product that would be marketed toward a specific audience. The team devised a partnership product between Shapeways and Soundcloud.
We launched The Vibe at a stage event at SXSW, where users could create a custom iPhone case with the waveform from any sound on Soundcloud. It received significant press attention from sites like Mashable, PSFK, Wired, Forbes, and MTV.
Fun hack: The waveform is created without doing any extra sound processing. Soundcloud.com already generates a giant .png waveform of each file, so I just pulled that and converted the pixel data into an array of values. 5 waves look better in the design than 1 wave, so the extra waveforms are ‘smoothed out’ versions, where the spline curve skips a few values in between.
To get the product launched in time, I managed 3 rounds of prototype revisions in 2 weeks. Key production features were embossing each phone case with the order number on the inside for tracking, and making sure the printers were checked for calibration so that the cases printed with accurate tolerances.