Its easy to see where our childhood toys and our adult gadgets cross over: kits. In both instances, users are buying into a kit, a product system within which they have the freedom to build according to instructions or to diverge into the realms of adaptation. Ladyada reported recently on two "heartwarming stories of mass kitting" in which her kits were used as tools for learning and teamwork - clearly her kits straddle the camps of 'kits for play' and 'kits for products'.
Thanks in no small part I'm sure to the likes of Maker Shed, the kit is the hallmark of the discerning business headed maker, and an area of great interest to anyone building a business around making.
So when our products inhabit a platform that is so easy that anyone can edit their own products, what does this mean for designers? A Core77 article asked this very question of its readers quite recently, and the response is interesting as a synopsis of the arguments.
From the blunt:
"... [design] is a 360 degree approach and how you integrate other disciplines into it. if you can't do that, then yeah, joe six pack is going to eat your lunch with the 5 axis cnc he built in his garage."
to the rather more considered:
"It's possible there may be a time where, when you buy your next iPod or Nokia or Dyson, you don't get a physical item, but a disc full of 3D files which you assemble into a unique product. Some of the parts will be mandatory and unchangeable, some will be optional, some might be modifiable if that's what you want to do. Then you take your "design" to an authorised store who manufactures it for you. Doesn't in any way mean that the role of the designer disappears, but it would change the consumer landscape significantly."
It appears that yet again, the answer depends on how the designer defines themselves. If you are a designer of objects exclusively, you may find your business slowing. However if you're a designer of product systems, (ie. if you're making the kits), then as Sir Clive Sinclair found out, your future could be secured for years to come.