What We Can Learn about Creativity from 3D Printing

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For the past three years we studied the world’s largest 3D printing community “Thingiverse”. We explored the remix-relationships—accessible due the community’s use of open licenses—of more than 200.000 individual designs, tracked an entire week’s new designs for half a year, interviewed more than 80 creators and surveyed over 200 more. This allowed us to develop a deep understanding of the creative processes that take place on the platform.
In this talk we would like to present our findings. This is of interest to people who care about 3D printing as we can give sort of a behind the scenes view on how ideas come to life here. But it is also interesting to people that care about creativity in general. As what we have found has merit outside of 3D printing, too. In this talk we would like to cover the following: (1) Introduce our research setting and explain why it is useful to study this, (2) provide a consolidated overview on our most interesting findings, and (3) give real life examples for how these findings are transferable to other settings.
We have presented primary results of the studies at various academic conferences and have a comprehensive paper on the project currently under revision at the Journal of Information Technology (see attached file). We are a group of three university professors and a Ph.D. student. We work on the intersection of information systems, innovation management, product development, and creativity. We believe that many of the people we studied either attend 33C3 or watch talks online and we therefore think that our results would be of interest to this community. Further, we feel that a well structured talk is better and more entertaining than mailing around our academic journal publications to those who are interested. And lastly, we are eager to receive feedback from a more hands-on audience (than what we deal with at academic conferences). It would be especially useful for us to hear of new developments, discuss ideas for follow-up research projects, and get access to creators that would like to work with us in the future.

When we think about creativity we imagine some lone genius that has an incredible insight. Oftentimes, this understanding goes hand in hand with some form of divine intervention: someone is “blessed”, or literally “touched by the Gods”. When we look at academic research that deals with creativity we see a fundamentally different picture. Creative insights are no divine interventions, they are almost always recombinations of known building blocks, they are what is now often called “remixes”. For a long time scholars have tried to make these remixes visible. However, this turned out to be pretty complicated. Creatives either do not want to name their sources of inspiration (for instance due to copyright infringements) or they do not exactly recall what inspired them. For the last three years we looked at creators from the realm of 3D printing. On the world’s largest platform for 3D printable designs (Thingiverse) creators are allowed to remix existing designs but in turn have to indicate which designs they used. This open licensing allowed us to study remix relationships across the entire platform. We explored the remix-relationships—accessible due to their use of open licenses—of more than 200.000 individual designs, tracked an entire week’s new designs for half a year, interviewed more than 80 creators and surveyed over 200 more. On the foundation of these empirical observations, we studied the creative processes in regards to four dimensions: (i) the role of remixes in creative communities, (ii) the different patterns of remixing processes, (iii) the surrounding features that facilitate remixes, and (iv) the characteristics of the remixing users. What we found has merit outside of 3D printing as the creative behaviors that we were able to study are transferable to other settings. In this talk we would like to provide an entertaining overview on our finding, provide examples from 3D printing and contrast them to other creative behaviors. We have attached a working paper that is currently under revision at the Journal of Information Technology. This paper will provide more detail on what we did methodologically. It also entails a couple of figures that illustrate both research setting and findings well. Our research is exploratory in nature. That means we did not start with a clear set of hypotheses like many research projects do. Such a form of research is typical if you want to understand
more about an under-researched phenomenon. In our case we wanted to find out how remixing in a digital setting works, and how important it is for creative communities. After studying the setting we conclude our research with five propositions. These are basically guidelines that sum up our findings. These five are: (P1) Remixes pose a major source of innovation in open online communities besides the emergence of isolated designs. (P2) Remixes occur in the form of several different, clearly distinguishable evolutionary paths including convergent and divergent patterns. (P3) The co-existence of different design categories allows for cross-category remixes, which are asymmetric with categories tending to either donate or absorb ideas. (P4) The effectiveness of remixing in online platforms and their attractiveness to different user groups is influenced by a variety of platform features for browsing and processing its contents. (P5) To foster innovation in online communities, platforms need to address the needs and interests of different user groups, each characterized by distinct preferences regarding platform features. Overall we were struck by how important remixing is for the creative process we see in the 3D printing community. And we hope that our research will on the one hand provide more creatives with and understanding how others come to solutions and on the other hand ignite a discussion on the importance of remixing for creative processes in general. More research on this is needed and also platforms need to address this aspect of creativity better.

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Saal 2
10 p.m.
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Sascha Friesike
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