In anticipation of "A Conversation with Women in 3D Printing" a talk series led by Women in 3D Printing at A/D/O in Brooklyn on Thursday, December 12th, we spoke with the evening's keynote presenter Diana Verdugo, Partnerships Lead at Formlabs. In our conversation, Verdugo gives us insight on the topics of 3D printing trends and ways to engage and build within communities where you are most invested.
Can you tell me more about what you do at Formlabs?
I lead partnerships and community at Formlabs and I've been there for a little over three years—we created this position together called Partnerships. The goal of that was to work on special projects with ecosystem players that weren't related directly to our product.
What initially got you into the world of fabrication?
My background starts to make a little bit more sense when I share the background. I'm from Detroit, so, manufacturing city born and raised—and then I studied Industrial and Operations Engineering. From there I started working on factory floors for a bit, and I really loved the parts of it related to the tangibility of what was happening and the continuous process improvement in manufacturing that didn't relate to the old school "This is how we've done it for 40 years" type of thing.
I was thinking I'd become a manager or along the Operations path, but I had an opportunity pop up where I was doing a side hustle [running a] jewelry company, with my twin sister. That's when I got into making stuff and bringing things to market. We were looking for new processes that were not really part of the jewelry industry yet, and one was 3D printing.
Earrings from Verdugo's jewelry line, Gemela, designed using CAD and 3D printing
My sister actually gave me a Makerbot 3D printer one year for my birthday. Little by little, I started inching my way into using the printer and then ultimately we were putting it into this part of our business. We were customizing our signage or doing jewelry design with it, we were even doing pop-up shops in New York and putting the printer in front. I remember going to meet up groups [on 3D printing] and tapping in. I thought surely in New York City I could find people who would be able to teach me or share their tips and tricks about 3D printing. But I just didn't find that. I bought my own printer and all my knowledge just didn't add up to where it should be—I thought, "I need to know more. How can we make this more accessible to people?" And so at that time my sister and I were like, we love jewelry but we love telling process stories more than anything else. If we're going to put this to sleep again, it's going to be for going towards the values, the pillars of our business, technology and sustainability.
And then that's when I opened up conversations to all the 3D printer companies that I knew that I admired. Formlabs was the one that was a standout. I thought they were really hitting a need in the market and filling this gap at a time where the quality before them was quite low. And if this could bring value to a company like mine, I can only imagine where it can bring value to somewhere like GE or Apple or Tesla. So from there, that's when I started this position of partnerships, which was this ecosystem enabler.
What are some future-forward 3D printing trends going on you're most excited about exploring and sharing within the 3D printing community right now?
I'm excited to see progress in inclusivity, both from a technical and human perspective.
Technically, we're seeing a race for companies to make digital workflows more accessible. Traditional professional tech tools that used to have the price point of a car are becoming closer to that of a laptop. Design software like Fusion 360, Onshape and generative design tools and desktop printing like Formlabs' Form 3 3D Printer are getting more accessible and easier to use.
A piece made on Formlabs' Form 3 3D Printer
On the human side, as 3D printing adoption expands, we're seeing increased participation and incredible impact created from those who used to be outliers in ethnicity, gender, age, educational background and geographies. Like the father who helped his son walk by creating custom orthosis for his son with cerebral palsy with his home Formlabs printer in Slovenia. Or the female-founded company Dame in NYC, bringing vibrators to a market that has sizable barriers to entry due to informal regulations and undefined user needs. They're transforming the industry through rapid prototyping and user testing, only possible with affordable desktop 3D printing. I'm proud to work for a company that prioritizes accessibility to digital fabrication so that anyone can make anything. Keep an eye out to see even more of this from us in the coming year. The industry has its work cut out for itself, but we're blazing a path forward printer by printer, user by user.
What advice would you give to people who deliberately want to start building a community from the ground up?
1. Start small. One on one conversations and small group gatherings are the best way to start defining community values and shared goals. Test often to see what resonates most with them and build off of their feedback.
2. Identify your biggest heroes. At Formlabs we call them 'Super Users', they're power users and industry experts. Actively listen to them and celebrate them. They are your core resource and an extension of your team. Don't make assumptions, let them tell you what their dreams, ideas and pain points are and start creating solutions together that support those. They will be the ones catalyzing your community growth to eventually bringing on more people with your shared interests and values.
3. Meet them where they're at. Digitally or IRL, engage with your community where they already are and resist easier options that require them to create new habits. Are they on forums, using slack, or prefer a bar meetup? Create a place that gives them a voice, like a forum, and not just one to many communication, like a newsletter.
4. Lead with your passion in everything you do and make sure the world knows about it. Your passion is your compass and fuel for whenever you veer off track or face a setback and the more people who know about your mission the more support you will receive.
Do you have any go-to resources for learning more about how to build relationships and communities?
Get Together: How to Build a Community With Your People People & Company This was actually recommended by Christina Perla. Its practical and inspiring case studies quickly turned this into my community bible. It prompted me to start a book club with my Partnerships + Community team, starting with this one!
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. Priya Parker Bold, thoughtful and helpful for navigating any form of human gatherings from office meetings, dinner parties, to conferences.
"Get Together: How to Build a Community with Your People"
IRL meetups found online: Comb through digital event platforms for local gatherings that resonate with your mission or ask an industry friend what groups they're already part of and join them at the next event. No matter the country I'm in, my go-tos are the usual eventbrite, meetup, where I've discovered gems like creative mornings, women in 3D printing, local tech and design meetups.
Learn from brands, organizations + leaders you admire. For me, it's Women in 3D Printing, for doing an incredible job empowering their ambassadors to lead monthly local community meetups across the globe, Autodesk for actually building physical spaces around the world for their users to use the latest and greatest in digital design tools and Glossier for turning to their digital community to name, review and co-create products.
What are a few things you're hoping to discuss during your keynote at the Women in 3D printing event?
I'm looking forward to discussing how to get the most out of both buckets of community participation - as 'the builder' and 'the member'. From active to passive, no matter if you're along for the ride or forging the path for others, there are things big and small to do to make the most out of your participation. I'm also excited to learn from our incredible speakers - Kat Ermant, Jocelyn Desisto, Schweta Thapa, and Victoria Ball on their own highs and lows of why and how they've built their own communities.
What people don't always realize is that community builders are simply enthusiastic community members. We are all members of some type of community group - formally or informally - and all have the power to be community builders no matter the resources at hand. You don't need a lot to do a lot.
Get your ticket for "A Conversation with Women in 3D Printing", featuring keynote Diana Verdugo, at A/D/O on Thursday, December 12th from 6-9 PM.