There is nothing quite like the feeling of holding something in your hands, knowing that you created it. That you have taken an idea that was in your mind and brought it into the world is quite a buzz.
These days most design work is done on a computer. This is great because you can be as precise as you want. You can spend the time getting things placed perfectly. Making things this accurately in the real world can be difficult. Best of all, when you make a mistake on the computer you can use the undo button. No worthwhile learning happens without some mistakes along the way and the undo button takes a lot of the pain out of it.
However once something has been designed you need to get it out of the computer so you can touch it.
There are many ways to bring design into the real world. There are so many different crafts to choose from: metalwork, woodwork, pottery and so on. They are all worthwhile and have their own advantages. But to use any of these is difficult. You need to buy lots of different tools, then you need to learn to use them, and get good at it. All before you can produce anything interesting or useful.
Also, they don’t have an undo button.
3D printers bridge the gap between the design and the object. With the press of a button you get a faithful physical reproduction of your virtual creation. I don’t have the skills or the tools I need to build my object. If I tried I would make a mess of it and I would never be able to tell if it was the fault of my design or my implementation of it.
I hit this problem myself when I tried to recreate a sycamore seed.
When I was in primary school I wanted to make a working copy of a sycamore seed. I was pretty sure I understood how they worked and knew what I had to make. Sadly, the best I could do with cardboard and tape wasn’t good enough and didn’t fly.
More than a few years later I decided to try again. I designed it in the computer and hit print. What came out worked perfectly and I could see that it hadn’t been my understanding that was broken, it was my implementation. You can see the working model on the Thingiverse.
3D printers are a very friendly way to take designs and turn them into physical objects. They let you focus on the design and leave the construction to the machine. They lower the threshold so that anyone can realise their ideas. Imagine a child growing up with a 3D printer – just imagine the way they will think about design.