Thesis | Meet Instantiacrate

Okay… so that is definitely not the final name, but just a working title we are batting around.

In this post, I’ll give a short design brief about my new thesis direction, Instantiacrate which I am working on with the talented Audrey Fox.

First off, here are some questions we are trying to address as we sketch out our problem.

Research Questions

  • How might we use the emerging technologies to track and record certified instances of digital designs?
  • How might we create new sustainable business models for micro-scale manufacturing and maker spaces?
  • How might we use this business model to support community development initiatives for building maker, creation, and fabrication spaces?

Design Questions

  • What audience or audiences are interested in participating in this new market, either as designers or as customers of design instances?
  • What price points are these users willing to pay and what types of design should be explored as a result?
  • What is the best way to roll out the platform and how can key stakeholders be engaged?
  • What technology options can we explore to make this work best?


Technology has laid the foundation for more decentralized systems of communication, empowering individuals to share content in afore unimagined ways, and creating new understandings of value, contribution, and power for the digital age. Yet this digital revolution never permeated our economic and social systems, leading to a widening imbalance between individual content creators and centralized platforms, with the latter capturing all or part of the economic reward for the work of the former. While in the past this was purely a digital content issue, more and more it has crossed-over into physical products as new fabrication technologies allow for the physical instantiation of digital designs without requiring traditional manufacturing and distribution systems. For this reason, we are exploring how emerging technologies could help to solve this issue, allowing for new business models that support the physical instantiation of digital ideas through local and sustainable manufacturing processes. By building a beautiful, simple, and interactive platform to connect designers, users, and local maker centers in new economic arrangements, we seek to help people equally reimagine value and exchange in an increasingly entwined physical and digital world.

Design Brief

“We don’t sell objects, we license physical instances of digital ideas.”

Instantiacrate is a platform to connect designers, customers, and makers together in new economic arrangements that prioritize local labor, resources, and production. It allows users to purchase verified digital instances of physical objects created and uploaded by designers. Users have the option to choose different tested materials for their instances and can have their purchase manufactured at local maker centers, resulting in unique DIY “mini-collaborations” with the creator of the work. Decentralized and cryptographically secure technologies are used to track digital ownership of these physical instances, certifying it is a verified copy of a designers work and is allowed to be produced, ensuring designers receive payment for every copy of their work produced while allowing for local and more sustainable manufacturing of the actual product.

The long-term vision for this platform is to use it as part of a top-down, bottom-up approach for creating sustainable revenue models for community maker spaces. Small-scale manufacturing and making still mostly appeal only to a DIY and hobbyist audience because of the time, effort, and money required to access and learn new fabrication tools such as CNC, laser-cut and 3D printing. This has resulted in maker spaces that are inaccessible, expensive, and have high barriers-to-entry for users uneducated in these tools, but who want to manufacture digital designs. We propose to roll out the platform in stages to build demand and excitement for new designs and are exploring what kind of designers should be engaged – up and coming designers, students, more seasoned designers etc.

An eventual goal will also be to create an open-source catalog of “free” designs for basic household items once the platform has gained enough traction. We believe that this approach will allow us to partner with existing maker spaces, capable of producing high-end designs as the platform is adopted, to drive familiarity with and demand for products made this way. Once adoption is more widespread and interest is high, we can work with local government and community-based organizations to fund new maker spaces that will allow for tier-two and tier-three designs to be made at scale. Through this model, community members can then be trained and hired to run the new spaces, providing essential digital design and physical fabrication skills, as well better access to and education on new fabrication techniques.

Instantiacrate was born in the future, but will be built for today’s users, and open up important discourse around local manufacturing, ownership, sustainability and exchange. It is a win-win-win-win scenario. Designers have a new platform for selling digital designs they might not have the resources to manufacture large-scale, users can purchase designs for lower price points and collaborate with designers through choice of materials, and makerspaces gain new customers and revenue as well as tested, well-documented, digital designs they can reproduce quickly and easily. Most importantly, communities benefit by allowing global designs to be produced with local resources and local labor, keeping local money local and creating more sustainable avenues for manufactured products.


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