The future of design: can 3D printing allow the consumer to become the designer?


Our take on how 3D printing will impact design in the future

Over at TBP towers we can often be found debating whether the baton of design expertise can be handed over to the consumer. Creative consumers may well have an idea of ‘what they want’, but in practicality, can consumers assume the role of the designer over the coming years?

We have already seen the trend for tailored products mature, with brands allowing consumers more choice than ever. Brands have also started to democratize design, allowing consumers to filter design elements by preference to create their own one-offs.


NikeiD has been a roaring success in allowing consumers to create their own ‘unique’ trainers, and other brands are starting to offer products as bespoke offerings. Case point: Absolut Unique edition, where 4 million individual sleeves have been produced, which adds a further level of intrigue to the product. A further example: Makie Labs who recently launched an app, which allows children to ‘design’ and make their own individual doll by selecting from an array of filters.

Marshmallow pink hair: down with the kid by Makie Labs
Absolut Unique Edition
Absolut Unique Edition: which will you choose?

The next step in self-designed products is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.  3D printing has been making waves in the design and engineering community for a couple of years, and it’s main benefit to date lies in the streamlining of manufacturing processes, allowing start-ups and entrepreneurs the ability and affordability to develop and streamline designs in-house before sending off to mass production. This offers an immediate benefit in encouraging and democratizing creativity, as it gives smaller designers the opportunity to investigate product opportunities before committing to a large cost order.

Yet, as 3D printers become even more affordable, there are some questions to ask around how consumers will utilize the technology at home? Already there are some worries around extreme scenarios which 3D printing could be responsible for. Recently at the SXSW Technology Conference in Austin, Texas, budding entrepreneur, Cody Wilson, caused concern with the intended launch of A proposed ‘world first’ the site provides an open-source search engine for 3D printable parts – including CADs (computer aided designs) for guns. Thankfully, for now, material limitations prohibit domestic manufacturing of guns, and the production of smaller objects seems to be, the more imminent, tangible route for 3D printing.

3D CADs of weapons – a scary reality in the future?

The Internet is becoming a touch point for 3D designers, allowing consumers to design trinkets, jewelry, decorative ornaments, consumer electronics accessories and other small and simply designed forms.

Wire stag head available from Scupteo stores

Sculpteo, an online 3D model printing get up, has recently designed a range of adapters that allow users to ‘hack’ (or improve/adapt by their own means) consumer electronics that are suffering from obsolescence, such as the original iPod. For example, Sculpteo have created small plastic adapters to align older and new technologies so they work in tandem.

Even at this smaller-scale, simple manufacturing level there is the burning question around Intellectual Property and how it can be enforced and regulated on the Internet. Will companies like Sculpteo and Defcad suffer the same fate as Napster did in the early 00’s?

Breathing new life into your old tech: Sculpteo

For now, we will continue no doubt, to marvel at seemingly preposterous technological developments – like the recent announcement that philanthropist Peter Thiel has invested $350,000 into Modern Meadow’s R & D pot to help develop 3D bioprinting (yes, you heard me right, printable meat). So we can be sure that 3D printing will not only lead to big change, but will be one of the most important technological advances for our generation.

Designed meat - a better alternative to horse being developed by Modern Meadow
I’ll have a Modern Meadow 3D printed steak please waiter…