Fab-Lab-ulous: Rapid Prototyping Coming to a Town Near You

Photo by Fab Lab DC

Photo by Fab Lab DC

I have always been drawn towards creation. I love creating home made cards, making new recipes, thinking about a new business idea…but I have never been drawn to machines…of any sort. It’s true that really large machines in factories are breathtaking, but the ones I encounter on a daily basis I glance over- unless they break and require my attention. That is, until recently.

A few weeks ago, I met up with the Design Thinking DC (DT:DC) MeetUp group for a visit to the DC version of ‘Fab Lab’. Yep, that’s ‘Fab’ as in fabrication- meaning machines. Fab Lab was the brainchild of a MIT professor, Neil Gershenfeld, who envisioned a world where more than just MIT students had access to a place to build and test new ideas. He set out to create a network of small ‘Fab Labs’ all over the world. They operate like a library, except instead of reading others’ creations; you make something of your own! Each Fab Lab has at least a few simple machines, all of which make things. Some things are 2D, some are 3D, some made of vinyl, others of plastic.  The machines are too nice for individuals to own, but not expensive enough to break easily.

I was mesmerized and astonished at how this playful environment made these machines accessible to me in a way I never had been exposed to before. I hadn’t taken classes with machines, worked with machines, had family or friends who really tinkered or used machines, but none of that mattered now, as in the Fab Lab I was free to mess around, to play and build things I couldn’t have imagined ever building before. No expectations, no rules, no goals. Just make something that interests me. And probably in the process, I’d learn something, and then want to try again and maybe make it better. Sound like design thinking? Fab-solutely!

Have you visited a Fab Lab? Tell us about your experience building things.