October 20, 2011
Used to be that when you heard “3D,” you thought of goofy gimmicks and glasses that would go well with a lampshade on your head. Not any more. In just the past week, news articles detailed important advances made with 3D laser scans: Scientists concluded that teenage T. rex were pretty hefty. Engineers identified which parts of Venice are most at risk of sinking. And police have recreated accident scenes.
But the coolest thing happening with the third dimension involves printers. Yes, printers. A 3D printer works much like your inkjet printer does, only instead of creating a two-dimensional image on a sheet of paper, it builds a physical object by stacking one very thin layer of material on top of another. That’s the idea, anyway. But to me it’s like electricity—let’s call it magic and leave it at that.
The printers are already having an impact in manufacturing. Companies are no longer using them just to create prototypes; they’re making actual parts. In fact, it has been estimated that by 2020, half of the parts used in machines will be designed on a computer and then built by printers. And why not? Printer-produced objects are lighter, cheaper, more energy efficient, result in less waste and can be made from a wider range of materials. They’re also much easier to customize, which has led some to foresee the day when we’ll download products as we now do music, then print them out at home. But first we’ll be able to tweak them into our own special versions.
That flexibility is likely one reason some artists have started using printers to express themselves. Laurie Anderson has included a 3D printer piece in an exhibit now showing in Philadelphia. Micah Ganske is has integrated small plastic printed sculptures into his artwork, which is featured in a show opening next month in New York.
The artist needs only to provide the original design on a computer. The machine does the rest. This raises the prospect of being able to download designs an artist has made available and printing out our own 3D sculptures. That’s happening already on the website Thingiverse, which is loaded with what’s described as “open-source art.”
3D printers are making waves in medicine (prosthetic limbs) food (customized candy) fashion (the first printed bikini) and even the military. (The U.S. Army has reportedly experimented with a mobile printer that could crank out tank or truck parts on the battlefield.) Still, this replication revolution won’t really take hold until we have 3D printers in our homes, just like the PC transformed the Internet into a daily obsession.
That’s where an outfit like MakerBot Industries comes in. Started in Brooklyn almost three years ago, the company hopes to make 3D printers so affordable and personal they’ll become part of our daily lives. It sells a basic model of its Thing-O-Matic, aka the MakerBot, for under $1,000. It fits on a desktop.
MakerBot, which helped launch Thingiverse, has been a big driver in getting artists to dabble in printer sculpting. And it’s the impetus behind a new crowdsourced science project called Project Shellter, where it’s asking people to come up with a design for a shell hermit crabs can use for homes.
But the real sweet spot of makerbotting, as the process has come to be known, may be in schools. Bre Pettis, one of MakerBot’s co-founders and a former teacher, sure thinks so. His take: Let kids design their own things and then actually watch them take shape, and you’ve opened a door to technology and engineering much more personal than any Lego could ever be.
I think he’s on to something.
Prepare to be amazed
Here’s are videos that will give you a taste of what’s possible with 3D printers:
- Little Lady Liberty: Watch a mini Statue of Liberty take shape on a MakerBot.
- You can print chocolate: British scientists fulfill a chocoholic’s dream.
- Back to nature: The MIT Media lab is looking at ways to create 3D products from recycled stuff.
- Such a tool: Check out this clip on making a wrench set on a printer.
- Anything goes: Here’s a sampling of things a 3D printer can produce.
Bonus video: You don’t want to miss this BBC report on two guys who set out to make a working bicycle from parts created by a 3D printer.
August 10, 2011
A little less than a year ago, Gap got caught with its pants down. After 20 years, the company had decided it was time to roll out a new logo. So, with next to no fanfare, it replaced on its website the familiar white letters on navy blue background with a fresh look. A Gap exec described the new logo as “current and contemporary.”
Sadly, a lot of people didn’t agree. In fact, it was as if Gap had announced that anyone who had worn Gap jeans—ever–would be audited. The offended gathered their modern-day version of torches and pitchforks—tweets and status updates—and expressed digital outrage.
Gap backpedaled furiously. First, it asked people to send their own design ideas. But a few days later it dropped the crowd-sourcing notion, derided, particularly by professional designers, as cheesy and cheap. Today, Gap has the same logo it did 20…uh, 21 years ago.
I bring up this story because it gets to the heart of the dilemma facing every company with a marketing budget. We’ve vaulted into a world where simply pitching products is bad form; now it’s all about building relationships with a “community.’ It almost doesn’t matter how Gap’s new logo looked. Its bigger sin was that it had surprised its fans. It had agreed to a date, then showed up with a shaved head.
At the same time, there’s the trend of logos becoming the bludgeon of choice for groups wanting to hammer those they see as corporate evildoers. Greenpeace, for instance, has become a master of this kind of beatdown by Photoshop. Witness some of the 2,000 versions of BP’s logo that sprouted from Greenpeace’s call to action after the oil well explosion in the Gulf last year.
So what does this have to do with innovation? Actually, plenty. Forward-thinking companies are starting to figure out ways to convert their logos from iconic symbols to tools of engagement. Why be satisfied with having people look at your logo when you can get them to use it? (You may have noticed that we changed this blog’s logo after people pointed out that the gears in the original version wouldn’t have turned. It wasn’t meant to be interactive, but the new one should be able to function in some virtual machine.)
Look at what Google’s doing. (I know, this is a second time I’ve mentioned the Google gang in the short life of this blog, but they get the innovation thing.) They started by playing with their logo, allowing it to be as fluid as the world in which it lived. Like some typographic shapeshifter, Google’s Doodles began morphing to celebrate holidays, famous birthdays, notable anniversaries. Then it turned interactive, enticing us to play Pac Man or steer Jules Verne’s submarine or strum Les Paul’s guitar when all we wanted to do was look up a restaurant address. People used that guitar doodle to record their own versions of Lady Gaga songs, Beatles songs, Beethoven songs. All on a logo.
Not that we should expect the Walmart logo to turn into an accordion any time soon. What we’re more likely to see from major brands is the sort of thing Toyota is rolling out with some of its 2012 models. It’s a special logo called a ToyoTag and it works like this: You take a picture of the logo with your mobile phone and send it to a short code. Or if you have an iPhone or Android model, you can use a reader app. Either way you’re sent info about the new models, sales promotions, videos or anything else that will help you feel the ToyoTag is more a friend than half the ones you have on Facebook.
And when it comes to logos on business cards, no one can top the MIT Media Lab. It’s created an algorithmic logo that can generate 40,000 different shapes in 12 different color combinations. Which means that for the next 25 years every Media Labber will have his or her own version of that very liquid logo.
What if you could make logos totally honest? To see how that might play out, look at this slide show from Swedish design artist Viktor Hertz.