This week I attended ‘Micro Manufacturing’ by Future Human a discussion on micro manufacturing and the future of design. I’ve been researching this area for years and watching the natural progression of discussion over the years has been interesting, Future Human stood out through the highly animated panel discussion verging on
riot rowdy. Yeah!
The evening began with an introduction by Jack Roberts covering the history of manufacturing, the industrial revolution and the associated socio-economic conditions. A brief view of the technological evolution which brought us through from pre-industrial to post-industrial with consideration of the changing commerical, consumption, managerial and organisational structures.
On a design perspective Jack points to how digital trends have allowed us to create, personalise and control our own digital aesthetic through our social network pages, sites and avatars, he notes how we observe this emerging in the physical world pointing to cafe press and other customisation platforms as a starting point and towards Ponoko, Ucodo, Digital forming as the future. With digital fabrication impacting various industries including; Architecture; Radiolara pavilion: Medical; Food and Bio; Organovo. This was followed by a panel with Brendan Dawes of Beep Industries, Assa Ashuach of Digital Forming, and Soner Ozenc of RazorLAB.
Of course no discussion of digital fabrication can neglect intellectual property – the digitisation of design and manufacturing opens the design and manufacturing of physical products to the possibilities of piracy, openess, re-mixing, just as the music and film industries found on their earlier digitisation. Heated discussions resulted as to whether DRM is really the best way to tackle that, personally I don’t think so, I wonder (perhaps) if an alternative economy, alternative forms of ownership are the way forward.
Again, as with any of these discussion the ‘democratisation’ debate reared it’s head questioning ‘will the enfranchisement of untrained people with technology lead to a glut of, in this case, poorly designed objects?‘ This is a tricky one, one that calls for questioning of motivation, metrics of value, and accountability. Examination of the output from Shapeways and Ponoko might confirm this suggestion, but I think the reality of this debate hinges on motivation and ability.
The barriers to participating in design and manufacturing are ever decreasing, but many of us will perhaps after a few initial attempts have neither the motivation nor attention span required to actually design a product from scratch. Instead, we will find that platforms and digital tools that bound the design space and ensure functionality and quality will be an entry point for consumers; Droog and Assa Asuach are working on this space already. This doesn’t negate the role of the designer, rather it points to an evolving role, that of facilitator and a renewed interface with the consumption and production space.
What is less discussed in panels such as these are those of the current changing social and economic conditions that might be considered relevant and influential in the emergence of production systems based on digital fabrication.We can look to neo-Smithian, neo-Schumpeterian and neo-marxist approaches to bring us to ‘post fordism’ but who do we point to in discussing the now and the near future? I’d really like to know.