This past weekend, more than 500 exhibitors and 26,000 designers, manufacturers and distributors from around the globe descended upon the Javits Center in New York to attend the 25th Annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair to preview, buy, and sell the latest and greatest in furniture design from around the world. Major names like Kohler and Fab mingled with independent and up-and-coming designers to showcase their work to architects, interior designers, and fans in 165,000 square feet of design innovation and inspiration paradise.
Pendant lights at the Gray Pants booth ICFF, 2013
One such innovation is 3D printing. In just a few years time, 3D printing has gone from a bulky, expensive endeavor only available to wealthy individuals to a sleek and modern way for customers of every ilk to design their own jewelry, lamps, vases, and beyond in a way that is completely unique. But what is 3D printing and how will it affect design in the coming years? We went to the 2013 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York to find out.
Founded by Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg in 2007, Nervous System has been exploring a design approach that relates process and form in a context of interactivity and openness. Their interests are not simply designing products for people to buy, but instead they release their work online as a series of interactive applets which customers can use to craft their own personalized products.
Nervous System booth at ICFF 2013
At the Nervous System booth at the ICFF, we met Lia. With a background in jewelry design, Lia now handles orders and works on post-production with Nervous System. “The democratization of design is something we are really interested in. With the 3D printing, there are no repeats. Everything is 100% unique which is something that really attracts people to us,” Lia said. That uniqueness and customization is at the core of the 3D printing boom. Lia states, “It brings up questions like ‘who is the designer?’“
Tables designed by Nervous Systems’ app allowing users to generate their own designs.
We talked with Co-Founder Jesse Louis-Rosenberg about the choice to use 3D printing as medium. “We were originally writing computer programs to make natural processes and grow forms, so we were in the digital medium anyway,” he states. “We started in 2D using tools like laser cutters and water jet, but making forms like these were intricate and difficult using traditional methods. As the 3D option became more affordable and robust, we sort of just moved into it.” But as far as 3D printing has gone in a short period of time, it still carries with it a few drawbacks. Jesse elaborated, “There are certain restrictions to this method. It doesn’t scale very well and you can’t use just any material. There are 3D printers that could, say, print a house out of concrete, but even then there are limitations. You can’t imbed rebar into the wall, which makes it less structural. With the bigger pieces we have to work with what is accessible.”
Orbicular lamps designed by Nervous System using software that simulates natural ‘growth’ processes
Hyphae lamps designed by Nervous System.
Despite those limitations, the future looks bright for the team at Nervous System. When asked where do they go from here, Jesse says, “We are always looking for ways to push customization further. We want the customer to have more input in the customization process and more input in the design.”
In order to bring their designs to the masses, Nervous System uses Shapeways, an online marketplace where creators like Nervous System and customers like you can find each other and create designs using existing templates or customizable algorithms. Shapeways seeks to make 3D printing affordable and accessible, connecting people around the world and providing access to the best technology to take your idea and bring it to reality. Companies like Shapeways and MakerBot, the first mass-market personal 3D printer, have made 3D printing truly accessible to individuals by offering access to 3D printers, a tool once so expensive that the average customer couldn’t hope to purchase.
3D printing is just one technique that innovative designers are using to expand their creativity and showcase new designs to the public. Techniques like laser cutting, water jet, and computer numerical control (CNC) milling are a few of the techniques also highlighted at this year’s ICFF. In the coming years, this rapidly improving technology will lead the way in furniture and home décor design, marrying technology and technique in a way not found since the advent of the personal computer.
So be on the lookout for 3D printed designs cropping up in design magazines and Ideabooks in the coming months and years; or, if you really want to be on the forefront, head over to Shapeways and design a piece of your own!