The Iced Slipper (2022)

The Iced Slipper (2022)

Sophia Neill

An Integrated Parametric Design Workflow for 3D Printed High Heeled Shoes

As a young woman, Sophia Neill had trouble finding high heeled shoes in her size or that express her true self. In order to accommodate this dilemma, the footwear industry calls on an extensive inventory of sizes and styles that are often left unsold and requiring disposal at the end of seasonal cycles. To make matters worse, high heeled shoe manufacturing has traditionally involved producing a multitude of materials and components, often outsourced through complex supply chains, then transported and assembled using adhesives, resulting in a system that is layered with negative environmental impacts.

As a designer, Sophia is also fascinated with the cultural implications of technological tools. She sees the integration of technology into our social context as a delicate task which sparks the idea that, as designers, we should integrate ourselves into technology and take control of these unfathomably powerful developments.  All this raises the question; can the traditional method of manufacturing and distributing high heels be streamlined through the combination of generative design and 3D printing for a more bespoke and sustainable system of production?

3D printed high heels are not a new phenomenon and we have recently witnessed a number of experimental ‘designer’ studies. But rather than an exotic one-off, Sophia’s research speculates a new system for the design, manufacture and distribution of high heeled shoes using a computational workflow that is vastly different to that seen in the traditional manufacturing of high heels. The scale of inventory could be significantly reduced from mass to on-demand production, while digital files can be sent to 3D printers anywhere in the world, making production a locally accessible or distributed process. The ability to print complex forms also facilitates design for deconstruction and with it, a reduction in the number of parts and the need for adhesives. Furthermore, this new system will allow for an elevated level of customisation through parametric control, thereby increasing the opportunity for individual expression, personal attachment and product longevity. This has resulted in a shoe made out of two components, each with a different function: a soft and flexible upper slipper and a rigid heel and shank, with each part offering ample creative design options to satisfy personal preferences.

The workflow was generated in Blender, a user-friendly parametric interface, predominately used for animation. Using animation software may not seem conventional for shoe design, however it opens interesting territory for design as many iterations can be produced from one workflow. The workflow is based on three constant variables: the foot scan, a dynamic custom last and a generic construction system. Blender modifiers were then used to create a variety of designs based on a number of style parameters while maintaining consistency in the construction. The style parameters were tested in depth and refined in response to 3D printed prototypes and functionality of the design in relation to its variables. The final workflow successfully integrates custom fit and aesthetic style while reducing traditional inventory with bespoke, on demand printing.

Although this workflow is focused on high heeled shoes, the principles of the research are applicable to other products that share similar production considerations such as custom fit with variable structure and style. For example, bespoke prosthetic limbs would be an area of research that shares many of the same underlying goals. Protective gear and high-performance sportswear are also product categories where customised fit, specialised applications and high-stake expectations align with the associated investment. However, the emergence of digital economy provides perhaps the most exciting and as yet largely unexplored application for digital workflows like this. This could range from design for Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT’s) through to design for Avatar costumes in digital worlds such as the Metaverse as well as the possibility of aligning distributed manufacturing with distributed autonomous organisations (DAO) in the pursuit of new and more sustainable systems of making.

Digital files emerging from the parametric workflow merged seamlessly with Nathan Wilson’s research (Low Hanging Fruit) and resulted in a voxel based multi-material and multi-coloured iteration of a shoe upper.

This research portfolio was supported through funding by the NZ Product Accelerator.

Materials and Processes

Software

Blender, 3D slicer, Rhinoceros 3D, Autodesk Meshmixer and Netfabb, Adobe Photoshop, GrabCAD Print, GrabCAD Voxel Print Utility

Hardware

Stratasys J850 printer

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing. TPU (Uppers) ABS (Heels)

HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) TPU (Uppers)

Directed Energy Deposition (DED) Aluminium (Heels)

Project level

Master of Design Innovation (MDI) thesis, primary supervisor Simon Fraser and secondary supervisor Tim Miller