Custom manufacturing tools like 3D printers and laser cutters allow you to make anything imaginable. One of the big reasons grass roots mass customization hasn’t taken off is the lack of easy-to-learn/use CAD programs.
The new Spore Creature Creator is the most impressive consumer level CAD program I’ve ever used. Within a week of its release there were a million creatures in their online library, the Sporepedia. In three weeks, there were more creatures in Spore than on earth.
Unlike games that only allow you to tweak your avatar, Spore provides all the power of a CAD program. The true mark of a tool is when people can use it to create things the tool’s creators never imagined. The following examples are great illustrations of that principle.
The creators of the Spore tools have said that they did not expect people to create characters that looked like they were riding motorcycles or other creatures. There are a wide array of designs along this theme created by users who were experimenting with the software.
There is a well defined “Spore” aesthetic. Looking at any of their marketing materials you see cute, brightly colored, rounded characters that look like abstracted versions of animals or movie monsters. There are very few humanoids in the Spore universe and even fewer that have a unique, non-Spore aesthetic like these characters. These characters were created with the Spore tools, but could easily be ported into other game universes.
Tools lead to certain aesthetics. When creating the design tools the game creators decided to separate functionality and aesthetics for game play purposes. They wanted to let people create interesting or odd characters without suffering a game play penalty. To achieve this goal some laws of physics are ignored. These cantilevered motorcycles are possible because they exist in space irrespective of gravity. They likely would not be created if the tools followed physical laws more stringently.
Many people have great ideas, but not the design training to execute them. These robotic insects are innovative designs, apply principles of aesthetics creatively, and are completely original creatures. A trained designer could create similar designs with normal CAD tools, but not as quickly or easily.
Japanese Robot Characters
Creating humanoid characters with the Spore creature creator is challenging. The design tools are specified in a way that most of the characters you create are cute and bulbous. These “Guyver” looking characters adapt components of the tools and repurpose them to create characters with planar surfaces and hard angles.
When designing something is easy it becomes possible for people with novel ideas to illustrate a story. The image on the left is intended to be a spaceship that is propelled by asteroids it latches on to. This is an interesting idea and was impeccably illustrated with these tools.
The mark of a simple design tool is the ability to pop out thematic designs according to the season. These are fun creations easily whipped up with intuitive CAD tools.
Am I crazy to think a “BoingBoing” themed expansion pack for Spore would sell a million copies? You could get Flying Spaghetti Monster components, create papercraft robots, Cthulhu‘s, and other happy mutant creations. Of course they won’t associate with a corporate juggernaut like EA and the would doom any deal, so we will have to settle for these home brew versions. brouhaha
Speaking of BoingBoing, here are some Steampunk creations right in line with their aesthetic.
Another mark of a great design tool is the ability to effectively execute multiple styles. Here we have massive creatures and super thin ones, both very cool looking.
& Skinny Ones…
Beyond proportions, you can also see a wide variety of aesthetics like these horrific creatures and their cute counterparts.
& Cute Creatures
Fantasy – Mythological Creatures
The invented universes created with the Spore design tools span “Harry Potter” fantasy style mythologies and futuristic worlds more in line with Battlestar Galactica.
Fantasy – Magical Lands
Fantasy – Fairies
Fantasy – Mega Flora
Fantasy – Butterfly Monsters
Futuristic Worlds – Spaceships
Futuristic Worlds – Mecha
Every Day Objects
Moving beyond the realm of the fantastic, more pedestrian products can also be created with the Spore tools.
One of the interesting developments in the Sporepedia is the profusion of fish tank designs. Normally a mundane object, fish tanks have been a rich ground for innovation in the Spore universe.
Birds – Naturalistic
A designer can use the Spore tools to create highly naturalistic depictions of a subject, like these birds, or their highly stylized cousins below.
Birds – Stylized
The same principles of design have been applied to various phyla of the animal kingdom.
Pop Culture Homage – Star Wars
“Give a man a hammer and every thing looks like a nail.” Give a nerd an accessible design tool and you will get THOUSANDS of Star Wars, Simpsons, and World of WarCraft inspired characters.
Pop Culture Homage – Star Wars Vehicles
Pop Culture Homage – Cartoons
Pop Culture Homage – World of WarCraft
History – 50′s Nostalgia
The Spore tools are also very flexible in their ability to create designs that would fit in a variety of historical contexts.
History – Ancient Rome
History – Cowboys
Simple blogging software made it possible for academics, investors, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and thousands of others to share their thoughts and experiences, democratizing publishing. Simplified CAD tools coupled with mass customization technology could lead to similar outcomes in the world of product design.