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An Early Evangelist Warns That 3-D Printing Is Jumping The Shark

A designer who popularized the technology in 2000 says marketers (and journalists!) are in danger of fetishizing the means and ignoring the end.

An Early Evangelist Warns That 3-D Printing Is Jumping The Shark
[Image: Folding Paper via Shutterstock]

“Things are very, very fast. You draw something in the morning and you can print it in the evening.” That’s designer Ron Arad, extolling the virtues of 3-D printing, the method he used to create a series of spirally sculptures for Milan design week in 2000, which put the technology on the radar for many in the art and design worlds.

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But now the designer is warning of “abuse” of a technology he helped popularize. He says creators are using it excessively or are fetishizing what is simply a means of production as a way to market the uniqueness of their products.

“The technology completely took over my studio,” he says, in a video made by Dezeen. “If you want an analogy, it’s like early synthesizers [which] meant you could produce music in a different way […] But after a while, you want to go back to the music.”

His remarks come at a moment when his 2000 line is being revisited in the context of the exhibition The Future Is Here at London’s Design Museum. The exhibition focuses on the “new industrial revolution” being wrought by additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. “Synthesizers were abused completely and so is this technology we’re talking about,” he says, matter-of-fact.

We a Co.Exist certainly have been guilty of hyping the technology, covering plenty of products and projects not necessarily because of they are breakthroughs themselves but because of the methodology used to get there–everything from 3-D printed guns to homes to objects no one needs. But Arad insists that designers “shouldn’t get any brownie points for using 3-D printing to make something.” The points should be reserved for making something great. When he, for example, collaborated on a line of 3-D printed eyewear, he told his partner to “talk about what’s good about the glasses; not about how they’re made.”

But is it possible to separate the two? Arad himself points out that what made the glasses great was that they were “monolithic,” just one piece of material as opposed to a multitude of components which can be “tedious work” to interconnect.

Either way, Arad’s criticism presages an inevitable backlash to the technology that will surely occur as it continues to permeate more areas and become cheaper–just like with any new technology, there will surely be those who fight against it for more purer, simpler, authentic design, full of nostalgia for what came before.

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, NYMag.com, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.

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