How Will 3D Printing Change the Way We Design?

September 15, 2015 | BIT Magazine As 3D printing continues to spread across a much wider user base, people are still coming to grips with both the implications and the possibilities. For an individual user, their initial reaction is to design and print out existing objects or to design new objects based on the rules that have governed art and product design up until now.

However, what users begin to discover is that some of these rules are neither possible nor practical to implement at times with 3D printing either because of the limitations of the plastics used, or because 3D printing makes certain aspects of a design easier to implement in another way. What begins to develop is a completely new concept of a still undefined designing paradigm for 3D printing.

But when we think about it, it makes perfect sense. Keen observers looking at a city in four dimensions can see architecture stretching across time, uniquely shaped by certain styles, but above all, shaped by new materials that made certain design features both in terms of form and function, possible during different periods of time.

The heavy, boxy architecture of the 1960's and 1970's reflected an increasing use of steel reinforced concrete. As technology advanced and architects acquired experience working with this material, designs became more refined and versatile. Today, steel, glass, and concrete can be combined almost seamlessly to reflect the concepts of architects with few limitations or compromises apparent.

3D printed architecture, however, brings us back to the 60's and 70's where the limitations of what 3D printing can do in terms of architecture, reflects directly upon the appearance of structures produced by an otherwise revolutionary process. However, this is already changing quickly. We can look at what is being 3D printed today as engineers and designers perfect the technology necessary for 3D printing architecture, but we can also look at smaller scale architectural models using more capable 3D printing processes. Among these, we see limitless potential in form and function.

Clearly, product design, architecture, and even fashion will no longer adhere to the rules set out by traditional forms of manufacturing. While the basic principles behind design will remain unchanged, a new method of designing is evolving. There is no set name for this process per say, nor central tenants underpinning its methodology. But as 3D printing becomes more prevalent in society, and design literacy more common, we will find ourselves faced with the need to design specifically for 3D printing and we must make sure the tethers of traditional design and manufacturing don't impose unnecessary limitations on us as we climb this next step.

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