Since the development of early CAD applications such as sketchpad in the 1960s, digital and analogue design seemed to be strictly separated. Cognitive processes of planning and drawing were located in the studio and on the computer screen, whereas the material production of models and prototypes was located in the workshop. But during the last decade, a wide range of techniques of digital production, especially 3D-printing, became available for both designers and consumers. These techniques caused a »material turn« in digital design. Today, the workshop and the studio cannot be strictly separated anymore.
In 3D-printing, the formerly separate spheres of digital and analogue design form a »new materiality« that merges digital and analogue (see Antoine Picon (2004): Architecture and the virtual. Towards a new materiality). This new materiality does not only change manufacturing, it also questions the modernist paradigms of industrial design. We can now make plastic products without investment in tooling. 3D-printing allows ad hoc production of non-serial products, it enables us to realize unseen shapes of high geometric complexity. Users can now participate in design by printing their own things. We can change each product from time to time. In 3D-printing, there are no finite products and no hierarchical design processes.
In industrial design (but also in art and media) the new technologies form a new typology artifacts and new methods and practices. Leaving behind the old paradigms of industrial design, these artifacts reflect the context, the formal possibilities and the material conditions of digital production. They are designed towards a new materiality blurring analogue and digital design.
Irrespective of the buzzword 3d printing that dominates the discussion around postdigital phenomanea in design, the new materiality cannot solely be reduced to this technique. More general questions regarding the epistemological and methodological aspects of design processes as well as the question of democracy and participation are raised. In particular should not underestimate the innovative potentials of makers, craftsmen and engineers involved in the 3D-printing community. Their specific knowledge and their skills need to be considered when thinking about the new, postdigital design process.
Lecture at the conference of the German Design Research society on the material turn in digital design.