Systems of Making
With every technological innovation in Industrial Design there is an accompanying conceptual change about how materials are used, how forms are put together, what they symbolize and how their existence changes the way we reflect upon the design and the design process. We are currently in the midst of such a change and depending on who you are talking to, 3D printing as a so-called “disruptive technology” is initiating the next or the third Industrial Revolution.
The advent of the desktop 3D printer in particular grabbed public attention and inspired the utopian notion of the “desktop factory”, captured so provocatively by Brett Ryder’s iconic cover illustration for The Economist in 2012, spewing out an endless variety of personalised products made at home. Unfortunately the concept didn’t live up to the hype and at MADE we witnessed the backlash amongst our students; that 3D printing simply produces more pointless plastic waste.
However, the 3D printer doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The growth of 3D printing has been supported by a whole range of platforms and technologies, including new forms of digital data like photogrammetry and scanning, sophisticated and intuitive 3D modelling software, digital materials, and a wide variety of service providers, hosting platforms and online forums.
From this, a new challenge for our students arose – the challenge to put this new form of making into the broader context of virtual systems, services and networks. Or, to make full use of these new digital technologies, not just for making things but taking it a step further, beyond yet another Yoda head, and putting these technologies into context to develop new social, cultural and commercial systems of making, in the so called ‘digital space’
This introduces the idea of virtual guilds and the potential for a massive shift in the way products are designed, manufactured and distributed. With the opportunity for learning and communicating across time and space via the internet, it is quickly becoming apparent that the role of the designer is changing. Already we see online communities working together to improve, reiterate, redesign or simply alter existing resources by trading ideas and skills with the joint aim of gaining knowledge, much like the craft guilds of old. This includes speculative design research into new and more inclusive or socially empowering platforms or systems of making for additive manufacturing.
Seen in this context, 3D printing is an opportunity to question the social cost of mass production; but in this case the disenfranchising or disconnecting people from designing and making as a fundamental human activity, or in the words of Klaus Krippendorff,
“I am suggesting that designing is fundamental to being human and contemporary society increasingly realizes the fact that making things is fun and the opportunity to play with possibilities, and to invent rules rather than follow those imposed by others, enables people to realize themselves”.
It heralds a potential change in society from one that is consumer based to one that is “prosumer” centred – a term coined by Alvin Toffler in 1980 to refer to people who are both producers and consumers.