The 1970's was a boom for minicomputers. Minicomputers were "midrange" machines that were used in all sorts of industrial applications--manufacturing process control, telephone switching and to control laboratory equipment.
"In the 1970s, they were the hardware that was used to launch the computer-aided design (CAD) industry," according to Wikipedia.
"The first commercial applications of CAD were in large companies in the automotive and aerospace industries, as well as in electronics. Only large corporations could afford the computers capable of performing the calculations. Notable company projects were at GM (Dr. Patrick J.Hanratty) with DAC-1 (Design Augmented by Computer) 1964; Lockheed projects; Bell GRAPHIC 1 and Renault."
Those were basically the makers of the time--only big Fortune 500 companies had the resources to create at scale, so if you were building tools for makers, it was a B2B sale involving a lot of big iron.
Microcomputers gave way to desktops and software made great advancements. It is perhaps not surprising that both Autodesk and Adobe--the two software companies probably most responsible for digital first creation, were both founded in 1982. Their tools brought creation ability out of labs with expensive hardware to masses of professionals in both large and small companies.
Still, users of creation tools were mostly professionals. It takes a fair bit of skill to be adept at Adobe Illustrator or to use AutoCAD. What we're seeing now is a third shift in the maker market--to individuals and hobbyists, i.e. everyone. Quirky helps you develop and market your product ideas. Companies like Makerbot and Shapeways bring physical production to the masses. Etsy is a marketplace for things you make.
There are also places to deposit what you've built or designed--Thingaverse is a core component of the 3D printing ecosystem. GrabCAD helps CAD designers collaborate and leverage off of each other's libraries. Splice is doing similar work in the music space.
The biggest opportunity to innovate is probably on the consumer facing side of things--the medium of creation. The other day I had a conversation with a friend about Vine and Instagram--and the sheer amount of creativity they've unleashed. They've narrowed the gap between inspiration and creation--I think of something and I can make it, all on the same device.
This was echoed in a recent Forbes article. In it, Adobe’s VP of Experience Design, Michael Gough, "described... something that many creatives feel about technology, that for all it has given us is has also robbed us of expressiveness and the ease of making. He aims to bring the immediacy back with the goal of making more people more creative."
Making more people more creative is what Adobe is aiming to do with their expanded cloud offerings and new hardware--they've built a pen and corresponding app similar to what Fifty Three has with their Paper app and Pencil.
It's also the same bet that Brooklyn Bridge Ventures made with Makr--that enabling more people to be more creative could be revolutionary. Squarespace also fits in this space--narrowing the gap between thinking of something creative and making it happen. No longer does a creative individual need to wait weeks for a designer to turn around their branding materials--they can do it themselves with these new tools.
We hear the term "maker revolution" and it's easy to dismiss it as just a few Etsy sellers producing limited batch products--but it's a more fundamental shift. Tools like AWS, open source and web frameworks made the barriers to producing technology applications lower. That unleashed an explosion in innovation. You can go from idea to app in record time these days. Similarly, by making maker tools easier to use and more accessible, we're experiencing an explosion in creativity that has only just begun. Companies like Autodesk and Adobe will undoubtedly need to keep these creation tools on the radar, because the market where everyone is a maker is very different than the world of the 80's and 90's where you only had fulltime professionals paying for high end creation software with all the bells and whistles.
Now, the core competency of your business needs to be around taking the power of these tools and making them simple enough for everyone to use. When everyone is a creator--connecting networks like Behance look even more like critical parts of the ecosystem.