Last week I was in Italy for the first Maker Faire Rome. (You can see my photo galleries of the event here and here.) The Faire kicked off on Thursday with a series of presentations. One of my favorites was given by science fiction writer and design critic Bruce Sterling. He gave a slideshow about his Venn diagram of things that are desirable, profitable, and buildable.
For instance, things that are profitable, but not desirable or buildable, include speculation, embezzlement, frauds, hoarding, theft, vaporware, and hoaxes. Things that are desirable, but not buildable or profitable, include fantasies, speculations, the magical, and the mythical. Things that are buildable, but neither profitable nor desirable, include trash, pollution, and entropy. Things that are buildable and profitable but not desirable include niche products, hobby gear, long tail objects, weaponry, and criminal hardware. All in all, there were seven categories of products that Sterling identified, and gave examples of, in his slideshow.
An improvised explosive device (IED) is buildable and profitable, but not desirable (at least not by anyone other than the people making and using them)
A solar powered cigarette lighter and other "unuseless devices" (called chindōgu in Japan) is an example of something that buildable but not desirable or profitable.
These phony micro-drones are desirable, but are currently unbuildable and unprofitable.
Cartoonist Rube Goldberg's whimsical inventions are desirable, but are not buildable nor profitable.
This is an electronic gadget built by a prisoner to enable him to eavesdrop on guards. It's buildable and has a potential for profit, but like an improvised explosive device, it is not desirable by society.
This ugly looking thing is buildable, desirable, and profitable. It's the first transistor.