My Fabulous Fab Lab Tour

FabLab.PHCCFor several years now, I’ve been reading and hearing news reports on how the use of 3-D printers is bound to change the world as we know it. 3-D printing is not only changing manufacturing, but it’s also changing and speeding up the innovation process. Here’s a link to a heart-warming story I heard on NPR just last week: With 3-D Printing, Affordable Prosthetics Are In Reach.

It’s stories like this one that caused me to jump at the chance to tour the Fab Lab, or digital fabrication laboratory, in uptown Martinsville, Virginia last week. The original Fab Lab idea was the brainchild of professor and director of MIT‘s Center for Bits and Atoms, Neil Gershenfeld. Watch his 2006 Ted talk, “Unleash Your Creativity in a Fab Lab,” here.

Opened last summer, the Fab Lab in Martinsville is a collaborative project of Patrick Henry Community College, New College Institute and the Martinsville – Henry County Economic Development Corporation. Located in the Southern Virginia Artisan Center, the Fab Lab provides training and equipment to students, businesses and entrepreneurs.

My tour guide was Fab Lab Coordinator and Instructor, Matthew Wade. “To qualify as a true Fab Lab,” Matthew explained, “the facility has to be accessible to the public.” According to the MIT charter, a Fab Lab has to be open to the public for free or in-kind/barter at least part of the time each week. Read more about who/what qualifies as a Fab Lab here.

Most impressively, Matthew assembled the Fab Lab himself. He installed 10 Dell workstations surrounded by whiteboards. Other hardware includes a mid-range 3-D printer, laser engraver, vinyl cutter, CNC plasma cutter, mini-mill, vacuum former, injection molder and welder. Matthew is particularly proud of the two additional MakerBot 3-D printers that were donated to his Fab Lab.

Matthew Wade and his donated MakerBots

Fab Lab Coordinator, Matthew Wade and his donated MakerBots

As fascinating as the physical tour was, I was especially inspired by the ideas and attitudes of both Matthew and colleague, Katie Croft, Coordinator of Experiential Learning at the New College Foundation. Along with many others, they are working in a myriad of ways to create opportunities for area students to thrive and get hired after graduation.

The Fab Lab is providing a platform for learning and innovation for students and adults throughout southern Virginia. The combination of hardware, open source software and Matthew’s experienced guidance, allows his students to rapidly prototype their ideas, a critical step in the innovation process. Or, as Matthew so succinctly put it, “The Fab Lab is enabling them to be digital artisans.”

by Rebecca Cochran

Design & Thinking Documentary Redux


Design & Thinking at the Rialto, Raleigh

by Rebecca Cochran

Last evening, I had the pleasure of a second viewing of the documentary, Design & Thinking. My initial viewing of the film was nearly a year ago at the North Carolina screening premiere in Greensboro. Last night’s screening was arranged through the Raleigh chapter of AIGA. The excellent opening remarks were given by David Burney, CEO of New Kind and former VP at Red Hat.

The film is very well done with an energizing soundtrack and inspiring interviews with designers from a variety of disciplines. I particularly enjoyed the spots featuring writer and former Dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin, IDEO’s David Kelley and Udaya Patnaik of Jump Associates. Each is a clear communicator and truly passionate about design thinking. I included excerpts from them and many others in my 2012 post on the film.

Despite some recent nay-sayers who’ve suggested that design thinking may already be a thing of the past, my take is this. It doesn’t matter what term we use (if we use one at all). What does matter is that each and every one of us, no matter what our role in business, can and should learn to be designers. In fact, we should become design do-ers. Whether we’re designing things or designing services, rapid prototyping and failing early and cheaply are the best ways to discover the customer’s true needs. Or, as Innosight’s Clayton Christensen has been reminding us for decades, how to determine the customer’s job to be done.