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Exploring the Meaning of Design through 3D Printed Objects in Design Does* Exhibition

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The Design Does* Exhibition space.

I spent over a decade as a professor of design and during that time, one of the primary questions that I encouraged my students to address is: why design? This question is important for young designers both as a general exploration that helps them come to grips with the importance of their chosen path, and also a highly personal exploration that is meant to shape their design philosophy which, in turn, informs not only the projects they undertake but their process for undertaking them. This questioning happened in the context of a large and often vociferous debate in the design community about why we design, how we should do it, and what even is design. The voices in the conversation are those of Victor Papanek, Nigel Cross, William McDonough, Kate Stohr and Cameron Sinclair, providing a rich and often fugue-like landscape of ideas. Among those, and many other, pillars of design thought are a multitude of other ideas and personal ideologies that are key to the continued evolution of design practice.

The Design Does* exhibition being staged in Barcelona is a collaborative production between the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona (The Design Museum of Barcelona) and Elisava, in collaboration with the Barcelona-based data interpretation firm and design studio Domestic Data Streamers. The exhibit is designed not only to be viewed but also to gather information from, and about, those who come to view it. The exhibit does not only raise questions but looks to understand its visitors’ ideas through the creation of opportunities to interact with the questions themselves.

Death Inc., project by Domestic Data Streamers.

Fifteen questions are asked of the visitor during their tour through the exhibition, such as “Can we live without plastic?” and “Can design pose moral challenges?” The latter question is pushed to the fore when experiencing an installation titled “Death, Inc.” which was created by Domestic Data Streamers. The installation consists of a robot that was created entirely via 3D printing, using BCN3D Sigma and Sigmax as the company continues to put the technology to use in forward-looking projects. The robot is activated by the approach of a visitor; it then traces their path with a laser pointer while rotating a full 360 degrees. The installation asks the viewers to consider the possibilities and consequences of automation. What happens when human intelligence is supplanted by algorithmic decision making?

The name of this exhibit is meant to convey that there is no neutral ground upon which to stand when practicing or considering design. While it is possible to ignore those connections and assert that a particular design project is ‘just for fun,’ there are still very real ethical circumstances for each action. As the manifest of the exhibit states, in dynamic terms constantly updating:

“Our brains process 1 terabyte of information a second, the equivalent of simultaneously streaming 125 hours of HD videos; a capacity that helps to create artificial hearts. Since this exhibit opened today, [692] minutes ago, we have lost [3,460] football pitches in forestland and consumed [865,192,884] Coca-Colas. It is in this complex scenario that design relates to feminism. And connects differences, for better and for worse. Design is the way we think. It may or may not be meaningful, but, above all, Design Does*.”

One piece printing and assembly process for Death Inc.

None of this is meant to suck the joy out of designing and creation, but rather to examine the more profound impacts of the existence of possibilities provided through the process of design and the technologies available with which to perform it. It forces the viewer to consider several steps out from any particular object or approach; what are the consequences of each act of creation and what are the consequences of not creating? What are the unintended secondary and tertiary impacts of each act of design? 3D printing is ripe for ethical exploration, even when producing the most frivolous of objects; it raises questions about the democratization of technology, the nature of design versus (or as) fabrication, the morality of a machine that can produce objects of death, and the ethics of the materials used for production. Even the decision to avoid design raises questions about the morality of choosing not to do something, even if that something is fraught with conflict.

The exhibit is free to the public and will be on display until the 13th of May.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below.

[Source/Images: BCN3D]


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