A look back over the last 10 years of DesignSparkFollow article
When I started out in the electronics industry back in the late 1990’s, the internet was in its infancy, offices didn’t have computers on every desk and the fax machine churned out customer orders, and constantly ran out of toner.
Back then, the world looked very different to Design Engineers. Information wasn’t “just a mouse click away” like it is today. For many Engineers, printed materials like the RS set of catalogues were like a designer’s bible and personal copies were kept locked away to stop colleagues taking their personally annotated comfort blankets.
Example of The RS Components paper catalogue from the 1980's.
Finding out about the latest products to design in to your applications wasn’t as straight forward as it is today. For many Engineers it was a case of waiting for things like the new RS catalogue to come out, or pick up the phone to call or get a visit from manufactures or distributors. When I was a young sales and applications Engineer out on the road, the boot of my car was full of data sheets, heavy data books and sample kits. It was a golden age for the electronics industry with new semiconductor entrants rapidly appearing, and in those early days of my career I met hundreds of engineers designing everything from satellites to sex toys.
As the industry approached the dot.com era, the way engineers researched and found the information they needed began to transform into digital documents. In catalogue distribution, RS components was the first to digitise its catalogue onto a CD Rom, and soon after to move online to be early pioneers of the ecommerce revolution. In the early 2000’s the internet started to become a complimentary search tool to printed data sheets and apps notes, and then by the late 2000’s it had pretty much replaced the way engineers researched products, found technical documents and got answers to their questions.
With the growing appetite for digital discovery and engineers surfing web pages as well as sine waves, an opportunity presented itself.
In 2009, a bunch of seasoned engineers at RS Components in the UK got together to discuss how they could help fellow engineers speed up the discovery and design process. With the explosion of forums and social media online, the internet was fast becoming the primary way for engineers to find the information and resources they required. When they couldn’t find what they needed, they not only hit the search engines, but also jumped onto forums to reach out and ask for help from fellow engineers from every corner of the globe.
DesignSpark Website - 2010
On July 6th 2010, RS Components launched DesignSpark, a brand new engineering community designed for engineers, by engineers. And it’s here our journey begins! Launching in 4 languages, English, German, Japanese and Chinese and with DesignSpark PCB, a free but powerful PCB layout tool with a footprint library of RS Components. It quickly became the primary design tool for thousands of Design Engineers from students and start-ups to seasoned professionals in companies of all shapes and sizes and across many different industries. We began to build a community across the world both online and offline at events, starting with a hands-on workshop with Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi to celebrate the launch of DesignSpark.
I arrived at DesignSpark’s on the day of it’s first birthday and membership ticked over to 50,000 globally. Having spent a lot of time over the years connecting face to face with engineers in the UK, through DesignSpark I began to connect and engage with Engineers across the world. Today we are a platform with almost 1 million registered members globally and over 4 million site visitors a year. In a DesignSpark day, a new member signs up every 3 minutes, every 20 seconds one of our software tools is opened 12 seconds an engineer downloads a design asset, and every 4 seconds a piece of our content is being read.
DesignSpark PCB and Soldering Workshop - FabLab London
Over the last 10 years the DesignSpark team have met some amazing people and been a part of some cool projects, applications and events. Our tools and resources have been the initial building blocks of many designs and have been adopted by students, inventors, makers and Design Engineers from around the globe to create some amazing applications, including some by NASA engineers!
DesignSpark Members Dave "Connector Geek" Pike and Peter Francis at Osh Camp London 2012
In addition to our flagship award winning PCB tool, we’ve introduced new software tools like DesignSpark Mechanical in 2013, a 3D CAD design tool that we launched with a hackathon that utilised the tool and 3D printing and was hosted by British inventor Trevor Baylis at the Museum of Science and Technology in Manchester, UK. A couple of years later we ran another Hackathon at the Google offices in London in partnership with Practical Action, a charity that uses technology to help fight world poverty. This was an amazing event that created some awesome solutions and we were visited by John Snow… the newsreader, not the Game of Thrones character!
We've made friends and ran activities with Fablabs, Maker and Hackspaces and Tech Start-up incubators across the world including Fablab London, Barclays Eagle Labs and DMM Make in Tokyo.
DesignSpark team members with Dr Lucy Rogers at Maker Faire Newcastle 2018
We've attended Makerfaires, educational events and large Electronics and Engineering shows around the world evangelising the DesignSpark platform.
We’ve helped educate the engineers of tomorrow through our engagement with Universities around the world and in China we’ve become a formal part of primary school education program by creating a text book to teach kids 3D CAD design.
We’ve reached out to our members to help us do incredibly inspiring things like send a Superman action figure into space for Mattel Toys and more recently a project to create a 3D printed boat to try and break a world record, that you can find out more about in the Autumn.
GPS Radio Tracker designed using DesignSpark PCB, 3D printed components designed in DesignSpark Mechanical
We’ve made friends with some amazing talented engineers like former Robot Wars judge Dr Lucy Rogers, now staring in our DesignSpark podcast, Jude Pullen, Maker Jedi! and Andrew Back, our longest serving blogger and creator of dozens of amazing projects, product reviews and exhibits for our trade shows.
Raspberry Pi Selfi-Cam project created by Andrew Back for the 2016 Electronica trade show - Munich 2016
We’ve supported and sponsored various projects, initiatives and Start-ups like Richard “Rocketman” Browning (The real life Iron Man) of Gravity Industries as well as rocket projects, Hyperloop capsules, and Raspberry Pi laptops from Pi-Top, who developed their initial design using DesignSpark tools.
Richard Browning takes takes to the sky and flys over the RS Titan Truck at BBC Media City Manchester
But my most memorable moment was in late 2011, when I met Eben Upton who had created this amazing little computer for kids to learn to code. At the time it was relatively unknown, but we partnered with them to build and launch their product in February 2012. It took the world by storm and today Raspberry Pi has sold over 30 million boards worldwide! It has not only inspired a new generation of engineers, but along with boards like Arduino, Raspberry Pi has also been a huge part of bringing the Maker Industry out of the underground and into the main stream. It has also now been adopted into many commercial applications and one has been up to the International Space Station with British Astronaut Tim Peake.
As we look to the next 10 years, DesignSpark continues to develop. For those of you who have been part of our journey for some time, you will have seen the website evolve, and our tools being improved, and new ones introduced. You’ve hopefully enjoyed reading our content, using our tools and resources and along the way learnt, discovered and shared what you’ve seen, but also engaged with other engineers to share your problems and help them with theirs.