Interview: Satori and Moroccan Designer 3D Print “Work From Home” Office Goods

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London-based startup Satori, which means “enlightenment” in Japanese Zen, recently entered the 3D printing market with the launch of its new professional 3D printer, the compact, resin-based ST1600. The system, which features a 5″ LCD touchscreen, 120 x 192 x 120 mm build volume, and increased light efficiency for fast layer exposure and higher print resolution, has been called a “good manufacturing problem-solver” by Satori, which is the startup’s key mission: to solve problems. In addition to offering increased accessibility with what it calls more affordable prices, Satori has also developed a range of high-performance 3D printing materials, printer accessories, and an exclusive consultation service and on-boarding period for customers that purchase the new ST1600.

At the same time, Satori also announced a new partnership program in order to work with innovators and creatives from industries around the globe on impactful, problem-solving initiatives that 3D printing can solve. My interest in the startup was already piqued by the company’s obvious focus on creativity, and even more so when I learned that it is female-led, which is one of my favorite things to hear. During the recent Formnext Connect, I met virtually with Satori’s Marketing and PR Officer Julia Horvath to discuss the first partner in the program.

Horvath told me that Satori’s main initiative is “inspiring global innovators around the world” and that the startup was “very excited” about its first partnership with the award-winning Mahdi Naim Design Lab, a full-service industrial design agency based in Casablanca, Morocco and Lyon, France. Julia explained that Satori, which was founded by the company’s CEO Chengxi Wang, was collaborating with Moroccan designer Mahdi Naim, the creator of the design lab, on a collection that will connect “3D printing with problem solving and create a community for everyone going through the same issues” during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re going to focus on it from the pandemic and working from home point of view,” Horvath explained. “We all have the same kind of problems and struggles with that.

“That’s why we wanted to announce it now – lots of countries are currently in lockdown.”

Wang stated in a Satori press release that the startup hopes people will use its technology “to create meaningful objects to address the most pertinent issues in daily life.” The exclusive partnership entails a series of projects, the first of which is this new collection that, according to the release, will focus on the importance of empathy and mental health during these unprecedented times. The collection is focused on 3D printing with a purpose to solve a problem, as well as connecting art with technology. It features some really unique but functional 3D printed pieces people can use while working from home that are meant to improve their workspace.

Naim said in the release, “I am passionate about connecting technology, language, and emotion through my designs and I believe Satori is the perfect partner to make this happen.”

The three interior design products in the collection, printed on Satori’s ST1600, are a laptop stand, a stationary organizer, and a USB holder, which is, amazingly, also a stress ball, thanks to its flexible outer material. Another difference is that a lattice structure was used to optimize the designs in order to use less material, but still maintain full functionality. You can really see the effects of flexible but functional design in this collection: the intricate laptop stand is based on the structure of a whale bone, while the nose at the front is a good place to put your hand while you’re using the mouse pad.

“What I love the most is how you can make something really aesthetic and beautiful but also practical,” Horvath told me about using 3D printing to make the pieces.

She asked if I would be interested in virtually meeting with both Naim and Wang to discuss the new Satori x Mahdi collection, and I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

During our call, I asked Naim if he had ever worked with 3D printing before, and he said yes, mentioning in a later email that his studio is “equipped with 3 FDM machines.” He said that to use the technology in his line of work was “logical.”

“I was interested by the mathematical surface…parametric, all these architectural free forms, all that. I thought it’s more emotional.”

Naim said that he has already “delivered several projects realised with this technology such as the TO-LYON time capsule for Vinci Immobilier, within the framework” of architect Dominique Perrault’s TO-LYON skyscraper project.

“For me, 3D printing is not only a production tool but also a means by which knowledge develops,” Naim said.

The 3D printed TO-LYON time capsule for Vinci Immobilier. Image courtesy of Mahdi Naim Design Lab.

He explained that Africa does not have “the same network of traditional industries like in Europe and Asia,” stating how important it was to work with the right craftspeople in order to create a good product, and how 3D printing can provide many solutions to the African continent. This is why he also appreciates the mobility of the technology.

“If I want to start the product, or a series, it’s very expensive, and a lot of people don’t understand that we can use this technology,” Naim said. “We have had some experience with FabLabs, but no positive results. 3D printing for me is a good space to explore the meeting between society, culture, and technology.”

Naim went on to say that people can achieve good results when combining the 3D printing universe with that of handmade crafts, as the two can “communicate the same value.” This doesn’t necessarily mean 3D printing figurines and toys, but larger, more world-changing applications. For example, he mentioned how we can’t imagine building a habitat on the moon now without the use of 3D printing.

“3D printing is like a bridge…it can combine with the artisanal. When we combine the two, we can have a good solution for the little startup in Africa or a big one in Europe, no problem.

“I live my present, I don’t try to live the past, but try to anticipate tomorrow. The one limit for me is that we have a lot of nostalgic people who like the handmade stuff, but 3D printing isn’t trying to replace this or take someone’s job. But we need the new paradigm of humanity. It’s the same point for emotion. All that, it’s new for us, and to prepare us for this new way of operation between human and crafting and the psychologic process.”

Mahdi Naim

Wang mentioned that Naim’s focus on perspective is what made Satori so excited to work with him, and Naim said that the subject of the collaboration really touched him:

“Like all designers in the world, we have a connection with empathy, and we need to understand, discover, the new user experience.

“With Satori, I want to live this experience for Morocco and Africa, to explore and make some basic tools to help the universe.”

I told him that I really liked the 3D printed USB holder/stress ball in the collection, and he said that it was a good example of the co-creation between his design lab and the Satori team.

“We shared the vision for our collection with them, and they surprised me with the idea,” he said about the piece.

“I like this exchange between engineering design and the spirit.”

“Some people can have just a product to present for the customer, but some have a vision, and I like to explore the visions. 3D printing gives us an easier way to explore the imagination and the practice. And with that combination, we augment the knowledge.”

Naim explained that design is a multi-step process for him, starting with a product’s function and where it fits in the economy, and ending with intuition and empathy, which he says “gives us the possibility to share experience with the other.”

Wang went on to explain that this was the purpose of Satori’s partnership program, stating that it wasn’t a service bureau, but a problem-solving process.

“It’s not ‘how do I want to reproduce this product.’ It’s, ‘I have this vision, how do I fulfill it?’ The purpose is to inspire a starting point for creativity. We empower their imagination with the tools.”

I took the opportunity to ask Wang why Satori had decided to work on an industrial application first.

“I think up until today, 3D printing has been a little bit polarized,” she replied. “Either too expensive, with the big companies producing rocket parts, or the lower budget-size making little figurines. We really want to be the middle ground, to produce meaningful, actual solutions. We collaborated with this inspiring designer on this collection that is produced by 3D printing, and it’s unique, not just faster and more cost-efficient. So that’s what we are doing here, inspiring and empowering people.”

Naim agreed with her use of the word ’empowering.’

“I like that word, and this is important, because we have a big human dimension,” he explained. “What I feel in this collaboration, we talk about the machine, about the results, the inspiration, all that. I feel confident that Satori is confident in their technology and machine. I take this information and am inspired to add more value to the product.”

He brought up a really good point that when we talk about 3D printing, we’re really discussing three different segments and technologies: software, material, and machines. You won’t get a good result if you use, perhaps, a good software and machine but a bad material, or a good material and software but not a good machine.

“If you want to innovate in this technology, you need to innovate in all these three at the same time,” he said.

Satori and the Mahdi Naim Design Lab are currently developing other inspiring projects together, such as a social initiative in Africa to pioneer 3D printing, and I asked if they could share more about that with me. Naim said that two of their collaborative projects have been delayed due to COVID-19, but that he wasn’t allowed to tell me me too much about them just yet.

“For the moment I don’t have any concrete results to give you details, the partnership with Satori is going in this direction, in any case you will soon have something on this subject,” Naim told me in an email later.

“Of course, this is only the beginning, together we are determined to achieve creative solutions that produce a positive effect and improve people’s lives.”

Wang elaborated on their partnership for social impact in Africa, calling it “a long-term collaboration” to find feasible solutions that can be carried out via 3D printing to provide some service, based on Naim’s own observations of what the people there need.

“Like, a small problem, but a solution that creates big impacts,” she explained.

Naim said that he needed to find a way to help a lot of people if they want to design for Moroccan culture, noting that Satori’s less costly professional technology is helpful here.

“I look around and we have a lot of little problems that we can resolve with design, and I start to work with some responsible people, try to give a local answer. This is why 3D printing is a good alliance.

“3D printing gives me the freedom to do what I want…we have a lot to explore with it, like ecological material and how to be more respectful to nature and to humans.

“I hope more people integrate the 3D printing solution, for good solutions, and not just gadgets.”

I asked Wang if anyone else had joined Satori’s new partnership program yet, and she said that the startup is also working with a fashion designer, though she can’t reveal much more information just yet.

“We collaborated with the fashion designer to produce this dynamic fashion piece. Fashion is normally static, but this piece will challenge your perspective,” she said.

With that brief but intriguing explanation, I can’t wait to hear more about this fashion collaboration in the future, and about Satori’s continued collaboration with the Mahdi Naim Design Lab.

Stay tuned for my upcoming interview with Satori CEO Chengxi Wang about diversity in 3D printing technology!

(Images courtesy of Satori unless otherwise noted)

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