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Teaching 3D Digital Design and 3D Printing with The Little Designer


By Nestor “Yan” Llanos

The Little Designer is a unique educational book designed to teach 3D digital design and 3D printing to children ages 4-12 in a colorfully creative and fun way.

Its author, Nestor “Yan” Llanos, began this project a few years ago because, “Basically, I wanted to engage my own children in age appropriate 3D printing and 3D digital modeling technology.” This desire to teach his own children led him to write The Little Designer book in hopes of giving more kids the opportunity to learn 3D printing and digital design.

The Little Designer teaches children how to be “young makers, who know how to design, build, fix, and customize their own toys using 3D digital design and 3D printing,” says Yan.

The Little Designer book guides children through the process of learning and exploring “3D digital design and 3D printing in a unique, engaging, intuitive, and fun way.” It also provides an opportunity for parents or older members of the family to spend some quality time together with their children, engaging in creative and fun hands-on learning. Yan suggests, “Before helping, allow them to try for themselves, which will help them to develop into makers.”

The Little Designer takes children on a journey of learning through “Buddyland,” which is a fictional world inhabited by adorable characters that move around in their unique and colorful vehicles. Both the characters and their vehicles are introduced in the book’s easy to follow tutorials. Yan says, “The book starts very simply, showing children how to create a basic cartoon character with just two spheres, and then how to print it.” The idea is to start kids off with quick success.

“Congratulations, you can 3D print!!”

Once children have printed their new “buddy” they can customize them with markers, paint, glitter glue, or whatever else their imagination comes up with, to make their creation truly unique.

The book continues to build on the basic skills with more complex tutorials of more fictional friends and fun vehicles to encourage kids to further their skills of designing. By the end of the book, Yan hopes children “will be confident in making their own Buddyland characters for 3D printing, customizing them using craft materials, as well as making a set stage for them.”

The Little Designer teaches kids 3D design with a step-by-step approach using Tinkercad, which is a free online 3D design app. Obviously, one of the biggest drawbacks is that not everyone has a 3D printer in their home to print their newly designed buddy. Recognizing this obstacle, Yan decided to offer a 3D printing service through his website “because every child after finishing the tutorial will want to have their own physical character to play with.”

After a succesful Kickstarter campaign, and an overwhelming positive response at a Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Fair, Yan was motivated to reach and teach even more children by getting his book into STEAM focused elementary schools. Yan says that The Little Designer “fits in a STEAM K-6 curriculum and in many STEAM programs that most schools already have.” He hopes that his book can be a “tool to support parents and teachers to introduce 3D technology in a fun way through play.”

The Little Designer is currently available as an ebook for $9.99 or you can order both an ebook and the full-color printed book for $25. Both can be purchased from the  website.

About Nestor “Yan” Llanos
Nestor has been professionally involved in car design and 3D printing for more than 20 years. He currently works at Local Motors, where he was the Lead Design Engineer for the “Strati” (which means  layers in Italian), which was the world’s first 3D printed car. The Strati was an electric car developed by Local Motors and manufactured in collaboration with Cincinnati Incorporated and Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the 2014 IMTS (International Manufacturing Technology Show) in Chicago, Illinois. The styling was selected in a design challenge at Local Motors, won by community member Michele Anoe of Italy.