Mass-Customisation is an oxymoron of a trend in its slickest form; creative, contradictory, attention-grabbing. It is also one of the most accessible of the disruptive trends available to consumers today. It does not get more open, personal… and playful.
One such company at the forefront of this trend is MakieLab. Part of this new breed of producers, it manufactures at the intersection of toys, games and the latest technology to create a future-smashing doll called Makies.
Founded in 2011 by Alice Taylor and along with Jo Roach and Sulka Haro, MakieLab has developed a software-driven manufacturing platform which creates physical toys from digital games via the web, smartphones and tablet apps.
Makies is MakieLab’s first product, and a world-first: a user-customisable 10” doll, each unique to its owner and toy certified safe for kids aged 3+. Having earned the CE mark in February 2013, they are the world’s first 3D printed toys. Makies can be male or female and their physical features can be sized and shaped into millions of individual combinations.
Hand-assembled in London, England and designed to be long-lasting, Makies represent a new future for toys: created and designed by customers, manufactured and delivered on-demand. They also have great potential for teaching children about technology: not only are Makies produced using cutting-edge additive manufacturing techniques, but the body can fit a Lilypad Arduino or similar, and can accommodate LEDs, RFIDs and battery packs, voicechips, Bluetooth and Arduino. In other words, with a bit of electronics added, Makies can be programmed to do some really cool stuff!
To learn more about the world of Makies, hear how playtime = serious business and the challenges of working with emergent tech, Curated Futures recently caught up with MakieLab’s CEO, Alice Taylor.
CF: Tell us about Makies; where did the idea come from?
AT: It was 2010, I was at the Toy Fair in New York and they co-located it with something called Engage Expo. The Engage Expo was ‘digital’ and in the basement and the Toy Fair was right there, huge and brash, on the main floor and they weren’t talking to each other at all.
I had the idea there: I wonder if you can take an avatar and turn it into a doll using 3D printing? Can you take a digital monster and turn it into a toy monster? Or a digital car into a toy car and so on.
I knew about 3D printing; I knew there was potential, in the theoretical sense – you can take a digital file and produce a physical object. That idea, ‘bits to atoms,’ had been hanging around. So that’s where it started.
CF: This issue is themed ‘Lightness and Playfulness’; do you consider yourself a gamer, a designer or a business person?
AT: A gamer and a business person, for sure. Playfulness is important to both, in our world.
CF: With gaming an integral part of your life, does it inspire your creative output?
AT: Of course! I’m massively inspired by games and have played some that have imprinted on me like (the) great works of art (that they are). Portal, Quake, Left4Dead, Limbo, Tomb Raider, Legend of Zelda… I could list and list. Play is fun, but also educational, it’s one of the most successful ways we learn things.
CF: What is the technology behind MakieLab? How is it unique?
AT: Makies are manufactured using a 3D printing technology called selective laser sintering (SLS), in which a laser fuses together particles of nylon powder to form the individual parts. The process can produce items with very high fidelity and strength, compared with the more common fused deposition modelling process (FDM), often used in desktop 3D printers, where a filament of plastic is extruded to build up a model in layers.
CF: Tell me about the process used to create the Makies:
AT: It’s easy and fun! At makie.me, you become the maker with our Makies Doll Builder. Here, you’re able to customise your Makie doll by choosing skin tone, hair style/colour and eye colour. Move sliders to shape the eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, cheeks, jaw and eyebrows. Select an outfit, then save your Makie – it is now ready to be made into a real, physical doll. Your Makie is one-of-a-kind, with a unique identification number and goes into the print queue at the point of order. Within a week, all the components are 3D printed and returned to MakieLab’s workshop, where your doll will be assembled and dressed by hand, then shipped directly to your home (anywhere in the world).
CF: With 3D printing still a relatively new innovation, what has been your biggest challenge to date with the process?
AT: We’re a small digital/physical manufacturing startup, operating in an unproven area. Everyone believes in it and knows it’s going to grow, but there are some really significant questions, like, how long is it going to take for material prices to come down? How long before SLS machines stop costing £125,000 and more like the £1-5k range. That changes things radically. The dolls at the moment are quite expensive, compared to Barbie, but that’s a factor of the cost of the powdered plastic. So we need to stay alive during this alpha geek stage, where the technology stops emerging, and becomes mainstream. And I’m hoping that process takes no longer than three or four years!
CF: What kind of impact do you hope MakieLab has on the various communities that it attracts (gamers, designers, innovators, etc) and on the toy industry as a whole?
AT: I’m glad we’ve broken a few barriers and achievements – a balanced and diverse team in a very technical field; the world’s first 3D printed toy, that’s awesome and we’re very pleased with that. Some great awards already, in themselves inspiring – we‘ve been Commended, against Barbie no less! And we won Dad’s Choice. Love that. Dolls with a decent body shape and a creative attitude: that’s what we wanted to achieve with Makies, something that went beyond buying into a play story, and well into ‘creating your own’.
CF: What’s next for MakieLab?
AT: The game! Makies FabLab is out in the Spring and it’s a game which encourages creativity from which much of what you do in the game can be “made real”, from the avatar to a doll and the furniture and even the clothes too, with unique patterns made by our players. Makie everything!
CF: Thank you AT. And here’s to a creative, playful and successful future for MakieLab!