Fritzing is an open-source hardware initiative that makes electronics accessible as a creative material for anyone. It is an IXDS-initiated project, which has more than 250,000 active users all over the world.
In the core: three views on one electronic circuit!
Fritzing offers a software tool, a community website and services in the spirit of processing and Arduino, fostering a creative ecosystem that allows users to document their prototypes, share them with others, teach electronics in a classroom, and layout and manufacture professional PCBs (printed circuit boards).
The core of the software is based on a new mental model for designing PCBs, which is inspired by the culture of 'doing'. In the so called "breadboard view", the creative tinkerer sees a circuit in the way it also looks on his or her table, when exploring electronics. Even for a non-engineer it’s convenient to work with this playful and aesthetically pleasing visualization. Meanwhile, the two other views make Fritzing an open-ended tool, enabling the design of complex PCBs: the "schematic view" is basically the traditional engineering-way of looking at electronics; and the PCB view allows both engineers and non-engineers to easily prepare their circuit for professional production.
The idea for Fritzing from the beginning was that we wanted to engage with the community; a creative tool can only be successful if all users are also contributors, both within the tool (code and parts), and also as part of the electronics knowledge base.
It was a huge learning for us to understand how to build such a collaborative environment. One central insight was that you need to provide easily accessible ways to support users. Not everyone is an experienced software engineer. For example, when we re-designed the part-editor to be easier to use, many more parts were contributed to the parts library.
Another important learning is related to business models for open source software. We tried many different approaches and ended up with the insight that it is not only possible to build a commercially successful company around open-source, but that open-source might even help to make the company grow faster.
One of the most complicated aspects of working creatively with electronics was (in the past, before Fritzing) access to professional production. It was nearly impossible if you weren't an experienced engineer! With Fritzing Fab we made it possible, even for beginners, to order a self-designed PCB. This was technically quite challenging, as we needed to build an interface for production companies to ensure mass-customization in a production process. From a UX perspective it was also a challenge, since we wanted to make it as easy as possible. By the way, up till today, Fritzing is the only PCB-design-tool, which allows the design of custom-shaped and custom-printed PCBs
It is very rewarding to see what kind of people are using our service: from very young pupils (like a boy who designed a circuit for his bee hive) to scientists and researchers who need to quickly build a circuit for their work.
Soon we realized that we needed to offer learning materials to Fritzing users to enable them to become creative with hardware. One thing missing at that time was a kit, with all parts included for a hands-on understanding of the foundation of digital electronics. We first created the "Starter Kit", and based on the insights from the Starter Kit we launched the "Creator Kit" in 2012 – far more playful, focusing on projects with abstract electronic concepts.
We sold many thousands of these kits, which gave us a deep understanding of how to handle production, distribution and customer care. There are very few design consultancies with such an in-depth understanding of what it means to produce and distribute real physical products. This turned out to be quite useful for many projects we're involved in.
Learning with the community
Aside from our own learning material, it was important for us to allow Fritzing to become a central part of learning electronics, especially with the growing community of makers. With that in mind, we're hosting a growing collection of projects, with over 2,000 contributed by our users (e.g. the "Black Mini" by Naomi Knopf).
We are also providing learning materials for teachers and workshops, and video tutorials – all co-developed (and translated into over 10 languages) with the community.
It's really exciting for us that Fritzing visualizations have become a standard in teaching electronics. Many books are using our style to explain complicated technology to their readers in a fun and easy way.
Summary and Outlook
Fritzing is an important part of IXDS' self-awarness:
We are not afraid of taking entrepreneurial responsibility for our actions.
We are not afraid of the crowd, instead we like to work with all the diverse individuals out there... and we know how to do that.
We are not afraid of designing, producing and distributing real physical products, instead we have a lot of respect for the complexity and challenges involved.
And last, but not least: We know what it means to build a well-respected brand.
Currently we are reassessing Fritzing's offering to the community and a vision for the company, and will soon have some exciting news!