A Q&A with 3D Printing Expert Sean Kim

“We’re always exploring tools to generate phenomena, and then we work backwards from the expression of those phenomena to figure out, How will we use it?”

A Q&A with 3D Printing Expert Sean Kim

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them. In this interview we spoke with Sean Kim, the founder of the Brooklyn-based design studio Wooj. Sean creates affordable design objects for the home and is known for compelling forms that are both geometric and organic. All of his products are designed, manufactured, and assembled in Brooklyn, and his business is built on the belief that great products can be made ethically and affordably. We asked him about starting a design business, designing for 3D printing, his favorite printing filaments, and the unique qualities of his work. 

Sean Kim, founder of Wooj design studio. Photo courtesy of Sean Kim.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Wooj?

A: The name Wooj is a play on my middle name, which is my Korean name. It’s pronounced “woo-jin” so it’s modified, the company name is pronounced “woozh.” It started at Pratt. I was working on a project for Peter Ragonetti’s crowdfunding class. That was when I incorporated the company initially, but it was for something totally different. It was for this CNC’ed knife rack. That Kickstarter campaign yielded the funds that I eventually used to buy the first three printers that we had in our printer fleet, which we still have.

The spiritual start of it was during the pandemic. I was still at Pratt and I was looking for a little project to work on. I had just bought a Noguchi lamp, but when it arrived it was broken. Basically the paper lampshade was torn so it wouldn’t stay on the stand. I’d just gotten this 3D printer and I needed a project, so I decided to make a shade for the Noguchi base. Their customer service sent me a new one but I didn’t want to let the hardware go to waste. I played around in Grasshopper and Rhino, just for fun, and ended up with basically the shape you see on the Wavy Lamp today, except that it was fitted to a Noguchi lamp base.

I thought, why don’t I try to make a base myself? I did some iterations and ended up with a form that is pretty close to what it is today. Then I posted it on Instagram and some people that I knew bought it. I figured I’d try to run some ads, and lo and behold a couple of people I didn’t know bought it. It was the beginning of the pandemic, so everyone was realizing: I need home goods. Everyone had a bit of money in their pocket because they weren’t traveling. Suddenly they wanted to make their home look really good. I got picked up by some influencers randomly and then it really blew up, it had a hot moment on Instagram. That is when it started. And at that point, it was still me with just one printer in my apartment.

Q: Could you talk about the experience of starting your own design business?

A: To some degree I lucked out because I was able to do it in an incremental way. The company existed while I was in school and I was doing it on the side while I was working for another company. At that point, it was sort of doable for me to be multitasking. Trying to make improvements and work on a couple of new designs and also just trying to get all the lamps that were being purchased out. It was kind of fortunate that I had this ability to scale up slowly. Then it scaled up progressively in terms of the requirements that the business demanded from me to a point where finally the business was making enough money to pay me. Coincidentally, I was no longer employed and I had just finished Pratt. So it was really good timing. I would say that it was progressive in the way that, sometimes I would feel in over my head but only slightly. But that is a process that continually happens, you’re always in just a little over your head and you progress in your ability to accommodate that difficulty. I think if I were to try to imagine building the business as it is today from where I was two years ago, I couldn’t do it. It’s just not possible. 

I’ve been fortunate to be able to evolve the business as I was able to increase my own abilities to accommodate the requirements of the business, because the business that we have today is significantly more complicated than the business that I started. We have many partners we work with, a bunch of different retailers. We have contracts with other designers who are working on collaborations, we’re working with other people who manufacture our stuff…so it’s definitely much more than I could have managed initially.

Q: Could you talk about designing for 3D printing and how that influences your design process?

A: It’s interesting. I think a lot of people — and sometimes I wish I was like this because I think it would yield different types of things that I don’t really make — have an idea of exactly what they want to see before they begin the process of prototyping and making. In my process, I’m always thinking about how it will be made and in particular how it will be scaled to our production processes. Of course, the primary method that we use to manufacture is 3D printing. So I’m always thinking about how to design things such that they require minimal post-processing or have minimal supports, basically trying to optimize things for printing. A lot of that has to do with the angles of certain parts or the orientation that you put them in. I would say that to some degree it hinders creativity a little bit. I want to make this crazy thing but I’m always thinking, How will we print it? How will we make it? But on the other hand, it yields things that are really tuned to be made in our studio.

It definitely influences my process and it definitely influences the shapes of things. There have been things that I made that were a little bit more complicated, and they were tougher to print. Ultimately some of those things didn’t make it into production because of the overhead that it would require to print them. But I think that happened a lot more in the beginning, when I was less familiar with what was achievable with printing.

Now I have a much better understanding of what is and isn’t possible or what will or will not be challenging, and that definitely does affect how I design. I would say not always for the better, because sometimes you want to think about a thing without imposing constraints on yourself. Without saying, I know that we’re going to print it so it has to be in this shape or it has to be in this orientation. It’s a bit of give and take with that as I continue in my process. There are other techniques that I will use, I don’t only 3D print. I’m trying to think outside those constraints more than I did before.

Q: What are some of the unique aspects of your work?

A: I like to think of Wooj as a cool shapes company. We’re a company that basically makes cool shapes and then we try to find applications for the cool shapes. It’s a business but it’s also my design practice and, as I learn new things, the practice expands. I’m always trying to evaluate and learn techniques and tools to develop new ideas, and those techniques basically inform my product. For instance, our latest product uses a 3D printer to create a woven mesh. In order to create that mesh, we had to write a bunch of custom code and software to translate things that we were working on in Rhino into the code that generated the lattices. That project was largely about the technique and trying to understand what was possible with it, which then finally informed the product. We have a new light coming out that uses that same technique but in a very different typology of light, a wall light instead of a desk lamp. Another lamp that demonstrates this is the pleat lamp. In order to generate that form, we used this software that the fashion industry uses to do draping, and that was how we generated what appeared to be a very organic form. We’re always exploring tools to generate phenomena, and then we work backwards from the expression of those phenomena to figure out, How will we use it? How will we put electronics into it? What is the function that will be derived from this form?

We’re definitely a form over function design company. I like to start with experimentation and figuring new things out because it’s ultimately the thing that keeps me interested in the process. That’s the really fun part for me. 

Q: You now have ceramic products in your catalog as well as lighting. Could you talk about what drives your material choices? Are there other materials you hope to incorporate in the future?

A: The Wavy Cup is a project that I worked on at Pratt, it was a slipcasting project. I wanted to experiment with more complex molds and that one ended up being a five-part mold. It’s got radial symmetry so it’s not super difficult but it was the first time I had made a mold, so it was pretty complicated to me. It seemed logical to try to make it a product in our repertoire, as it was designed already and we knew how to make the molds, but we were not in a position to make our own ceramic pieces.

We work in a building filled with ceramicists, more than half of our building’s occupants are ceramicists.  A lot of knowledge there. We realized it would make sense to work with these companies, to figure out how to collaborate with them. The first round that we sold as a company, we worked with a ceramics company that was upstate. She produced the first run of the cups in porcelain. She stopped doing fabrication and we ended up working with Catalina from Base ceramics. We printed all the mold positives, so it’s definitely still tied to our repertoire of the ability to print things and make geometries that might have simple rule sets but end up feeling more complex.

Ceramics are definitely a material that we will continue to use though we ourselves will likely not produce the products. We don’t really have the expertise or capacity, and it’s our overall strategy to be able to produce things and sell things that we’re excited about, that are our own designs but that don’t necessarily have to be fabricated in-house. There are only five of us doing very different things. We’re working to find other partners to make things, to design stuff for, and make stuff with that we’re excited about. Ceramic is interesting because there are all of these textural things that you can get in ceramic that you can’t get from a printed plastic.

Q: Could you talk about the material you use for 3D printing?

A: We have a couple of materials that we work with. We work primarily with PLA, and we work with a company called Reflow that does recycled PLA. For a while PLA was touted as this very responsible alternative to regular thermoplastics like petroleum-derived thermoplastics, and that very well may be true, but I think that for a time those things were overstated. Even if you are making a biopolymer, out of plant stock, those are being fertilized by petroleum-based fertilizers, and being tilled by vehicles using petroleum, and being transported with vehicles that use petroleum. And so the net outcome in terms of your carbon footprint for that same amount of bioplastic may be the same, or even worse in some cases. In theory it’s compostable but you need industrial composting, which isn’t typically available, etc. All that to say that we’re happy to be working with Reflow because they are using PLA but they’re using a high quality source of recycled PLA. They’re taking a bunch of different materials from the medical industry and the food packaging industry and then recycling that. It’s a recycled PLA that has effectively the same mechanical properties of fresh PLA. 

The other material that we use is a PETG. It’s a modified PET that is recycled. We work with a company in Ohio and they recycle the PET to make the PETG. We use some fresh PLA as well, it just depends. We’re sort of tied to using different manufacturers based on the color choices. Ideally we would have the ability to take the raw feedstock and put in a colorant ourselves, but we’re not quite there yet. It takes a long time to source your own custom colors. So it’s a work in progress, but happily a lot of the material is already in its second life and still has the potential to be reclaimed. 

We mostly use PLA because it’s a super useful material for printing. It is now basically the standard for printing. It used to be ABS that people would print with, which was extremely noxious and difficult to print, but PLA is very forgiving.

We’re happy the settings and tuning that we’ve honed over time. For example, the first version of the Wavy Lamp: it used to take almost a full day to print the shade and half a day to print the base. Now it takes three hours to print the base and four hours to print the shade. That’s just learning over time and optimizing things, really understanding settings and materials. Those optimizations are the factors that allow us to exist as a company, otherwise we couldn’t manage to sell as many products as we needed to stay viable.

Q: What are you working on that is interesting to you at the moment?

A: I mentioned before that we’re working on a new wall light using that woven technique. We’re going to be launching that at the end of June, so we’re working out some final details. It involves a lot of mechanical design that we didn’t really do before. We are also working on a collaboration with a ceramicist except it’s the other way around: we are working on their products to make a lighting product for her. She wanted to make her products more accessible. We’re working on more projects with collaborations who maybe don’t have the capacity to produce their own designs in a way that’s cost efficient. We’re generally aggressive in terms of product launches in the summer. It’s a slow retail season, so it’s our opportunity to both develop new products, because we’re not as busy, and to try to boost our sales by having new products. 

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

A Q&A with 3D Printing Maven Christina Perla

“I think there needs to be a national leader where people can go and pick up their 3D prints.”

A Q&A with 3D Printing Maven Christina Perla

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them. In this interview we spoke with Christina Perla, the co-founder and CEO of Makelab, an innovative 3D printing and design service that is democratizing 3D printing.

Christina Perla is on the Board of Directors for Women in 3D Printing, where she works to engage the global 3D printing community and inspire more women to join the male-dominated industry. Trained as an industrial designer at Pratt Institute, she brings an innovative, problem-solving mindset to the entrepreneurial task of growing her business, which she founded with her husband Manny Mota in 2017. We asked Christina about her favorite 3D printing materials, the past, present, and future of 3D printing, and diversity in the industry.

3D Printing expert Christina Perla poses for a portrait
Christina Perla is the co-founder and CEO of Makelab, an innovative 3D printing and design service. Photo courtesy of Christina Perla.

Q: What are you working on that’s interesting to you at the moment?

A: I am focused on the business aspect, so I’m thinking about what the midterm to long term vision looks like and how we can execute that.  I’m really focused on How does the business scale? What locations are we going to be in next? And how are we going to make that happen?  I’m fundraising—it’s at the tail end, which is great—and I’m shifting my focus to Who do we need to execute this? How do we execute this? What are the steps and what do the different markets look like in each region?

We’re looking at a lot of major cities. Anywhere where design and engineering is happening is a good place for Makelab to be. I’m taking cues from different universities and institutes that offer industrial design or that offer mechanical engineering degrees. I also look at nonprofit organizations like IDSA [Industrial Designers Society of America] and SME [Society of Manufacturing Engineers] on the manufacturing side, ASME [The American Society of Mechanical Engineers] on the mechanical engineering side, and Women in 3D Printing. Where they have local chapters is another indication of where we should be. We triangulate.

Q: Could you tell us about one of your favorite projects and share why it is important to you?

A: I personally love when Full Circle Brands come through the door, they’re pretty much an OXO competitor. Their products are in a lot of U.S. homes. I was just at a colleague’s house in Portland and I saw that her scrubber for washing dishes was Full Circle. I was like, No way! We print for them all the time! It’s a lot of recognizable objects that feel very ID [Industrial Design]. I love those projects. I feel like I can see their process in what they’re printing. It makes me feel like I’m back in ID in a way, and contributing to that process.

Q: How did Makelab start?

A: Very serendipitously. My entire career was very flowy, one thing after the next. My last job was actually working for Rebeccah at Interwoven as an industrial designer. A good friend of mine was also working there with me and I caught this bug, this entrepreneurial bug, and I couldn’t shake it. I realized, I need to scratch this itch so I don’t regret anything. I need to try.  So I quit, I gave my two weeks notice with Rebeccah, and I started to take on my own clients, doing industrial design freelancing. 

Manny [Christina’s husband and business partner] joined me in my effort, so we were doing it together. We used 3D printing a lot, and we found this place that we loved. We were their top 3D printing customer and about a year into freelancing, in 2017, there was an opportunity to acquire the assets of that business. So we did it! We got it all together, and the whole idea was that the 3D printing company, now Makelab, was going to fund the Design Consultancy Firm Startup Dream. 

Two years later, in 2019, is when 3D printing really took over. We had all these brands coming in the door and we found that they kept coming back. They were happy. The business grew 3X that year and that’s when we started thinking, Okay, I think this is the way to go. We became passionate about building a business and applying all of our skills towards that. It was hard to let go of ID because we both spent many years doing consulting but, to be honest, I don’t think we were the consulting type. This was a better fit. 

Q: Your logo is fantastic, did you design it in-house?

A: Yes! Manny drew some out and we had a bunch of logos all over the place. He was definitely doing the whole sketching iterative process on that. We saw one we liked and he just kept going on it until it was what you see now. I digitized it and that was that. We haven’t touched it since.

Q: What were some of your early challenges after launching the company? 

A: The things that no one tells you about business, that no one prepares you for. Even business school doesn’t really prepare you for starting a business. They teach you strategy but they don’t teach you basic things like how to hire, how to fire, how to recruit, best practices, things like that. How to manage people, how to really roadmap and get to a point where you can delegate effectively. That management and leadership aspect was my biggest learning curve. I’ve focused on it so I’ve become a lot better than I was on day one, but that’s the thing that no one talks to you about; all the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes, the admin stuff, the non-glamorous stuff.

I’ve always been someone who asks for help. I try to quickly—very, very quickly—identify what I don’t know. I try to look from the 80,000 foot view to see what’s missing, what gaps are there? That’s where my designer brain comes into play. I’m able to see those different views because that’s what we did at Pratt: you went in and you went out and you went in and you went out. There was a lot of repositioning so you could see different facets of a situation, or a problem, or a part, or any sort of product. It’s the same thing with business. I try to see from that 80,000 foot view, the airplane view.

Also, if I didn’t know something I would Google it. If I wanted to hear it from somebody, I’d reach out and just start talking about the things that I’m learning. People would say, Oh, you should talk to my friend! Oh, you should talk to my advisor! Oh, I should connect you! And that’s how it starts. All of a sudden you have this network, this community of people who are vested, who want to see you succeed and who are rooting for you. 

Q: At what point was the vision you had for Makelab clear?

A: The 3D printing industry is very much like the plumbing industry: there’s no clear winner in the space. You have the 3D printing marketplaces where they don’t actually print anything, so if I—as a designer—am going to print at one of these marketplaces sites, not only do I have to have it shipped, I don’t know where it’s printing. I don’t know what practices they have. I don’t know how they handle my data, which is especially important if it’s protected by an NDA. I’ve been on the manufacturing partner side of those networks and there’s not very much control. The same goes for quality. 

In 2019 we had this vision. It’s cheesy but I envisioned the T-Mobile map, like cell phone coverage but instead: 3D printing coverage. I think there needs to be a national leader where people can go and pick up their 3D prints. You know the team that works there because this is part of your process, it matters for you. If we don’t deliver, your timeline is messed up, your budget is messed up. You need to have those close proximity relationships in place. We experienced that ourselves as designers, which is why we stuck with that one location in Bushwick that had a really small team, and we would drive over and pick up our prints for each job. 

So we had this vision of the whole country—and then the world—having all these Makelabs, and then we thought, Maybe we don’t want to own everything. We realized that we could leverage a franchise model to expand quickly and enable others to start their own businesses. We can give those who are interested, who don’t want to start from zero, the tools to help them get started. It’s a lot of systems designed for mutual success and alignment.

I’ve always been a people-person. Coaching and mentoring, I love that, either on the receiving or the giving end. This whole model of how we’re going to scale Makelab is core to my personal passions, which is great.

Q: Could you talk about 3D printing as a sustainable strategy?

A: In terms of carbon footprint, 3D printing is a lot lighter than many alternatives. It has less of a carbon footprint than traditional manufacturing. You do have supports but there are some technologies where you don’t need to print with supports. Even if you do, that material is often 100% recyclable and it feeds back into the raw material of the machines. There is much more impact in injection molding and the supply chain for getting the raw materials for that. If you think about CNCing, you’re taking a block of something and carving away at it, all that waste is created. 

With 3D printing, for the most part, you print only what you need. There are supports, yes, but it’s still pretty minimal and supply chains are localized.

Q: Makelab offers a blend of printing and design services, what does the design side of your business look like?

A: We call it design for marketing concept creation. From an industrial designer’s or mechanical engineer’s perspective, we help with the file. That means that there are already dimensions associated, there’s already a proof of concept, all of that. We don’t do concept creation. The concept development part that an ID person would normally tackle, we don’t do. What we found, though, is that sometimes in the iterative process our customers go so fast. They don’t have much time and they’re juggling multiple projects, so they may not have time to revisit something to make sure it’s scaled up a little bit bigger, or that the walls are a little bit thickened. That’s where we come in. We consider ourselves to be gap fillers on the design side.

Q: What are the core uses for 3D printing that you see at this point, is it mainly prototyping? 

A: It is a lot of prototyping. I think part of that is because Manny and I come from this world of product design and development. We inherently attract that, and I think our brand does a good job of attracting that as well, so that’s what we’ve seen. The use cases of 3D printing  go way beyond that, though. You can do prototyping for planes, for rockets. You can create parts that will go up into space. 3D printing offers the availability of unique customization, mass customization. In any given industry there are components that reflect industry standards. A lot of that can be disrupted, you can create more unique parts. You can create more unique designs in these antiquated industries, which is interesting.

Q: What are some of your favorite 3D printing materials and what do you like about them? 

A: Oh my gosh. I’m so excited about metal! I think metal is so, so cool. The technology still needs work, we need success rates to be higher and failure rights to be lower, but it’s such a promising material. You can do precious metals. You can print stainless steel and aluminum, and there’s copper, which is great for models that you need to show or get plated. I’m also excited for nylon powder as well because you don’t need supports for that one. You can do much more complex geometry and it’s strong. 

Q: It can be intimidating to get into 3D printing. For someone who is curious, where do you think is a good place to start?

A: I’m going to be biased and say: Makelab! 

I’ve been in this industry for five six years now and even today, when I go on those online marketplaces I was talking about before, I feel dumb. I don’t know what the scientific names of the materials are, there’s nothing I can relate to. A big part of what we’re doing is about how we present all of this technical information. It’s about how we package it, how we use analogies, and how we explain it to people. It might be a simple thing like calling a material rubber-like or silicone-like and giving the Shore Hardness. Things like that make it easy for you as a new user of the technology to understand your options. When people come in for a materials consultation and they see all the samples, there are a lot of light bulbs that go off. That’s what I like to see. I think we do a good job of being the first entry point into the industry.

Q: What changes have you seen since you started in the 3D printing industry?

A: Metal has become really big. So have industrial use cases, and we’re getting closer to end-use part manufacturing, at least for some parts. Cost is still something that needs to be figured out. It’s too expensive to manufacture everything via additive [manufacturing]. It’s like saying that everything needs to be injection molded. It’s just not going to happen.

There are different manufacturing processes for a reason and this is one of those processes. It’s exciting but it’s not going to take over. What I see is a lot more large-scale projects. I love to see rocket parts being 3D printed, I love to see homes being 3D printed. I think that’s such a valid use case. It can replace drywall. It’s structure. Those those use cases are great and I think we’re going to see more of them. I think you’ll start to see more small, custom things. Manny bought something off of Amazon once, a hook for the home. A portion of it was 3D printed because it was so custom that it wasn’t worth setting up the [injection] mold. It was from a smaller company so it didn’t make sense to go the injection molding route, instead of millions of units to produce they only had hundreds of thousands, or even less. At that point, 3D printing technology makes sense.

Q: What do you see in the future of 3D printing?

A: You know what’s interesting? I think about this industry more in terms of business use cases than consumer use cases. In 2012 there was a big focus on consumers, there was this narrative that one day everything in your home is going to be 3D printed. But the technology is not really consumer-ready. It’s like saying that vacuum forming is going to be in everyone’s home. There is a machine to make that process more friendly but…my family over in Pittsburgh is not going to be getting that machine and trying to make everything in their home out of that machine. It’s the same with 3D printing. It’s similar to a sewing machine: super cheap, super accessible, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to make all your clothes by yourself. 

Q: Could you talk about diversity in the 3D printing industry?

A: I could talk about that forever! I’m on the board for Women in 3D printing, I’ve been really involved with the organization ever since 2018. The stats are that women make up 12-13 % of the industry, which is abysmal. You go to these trade shows and you can definitely tell that I stand out, Manny and I both. We look like designers, we think like designers, we ask questions like designers, we converse like designers. We stand out. And if 12-13 % is the number for gender, I’m pretty sure the numbers for diversity are much, much worse.

That’s one thing about me and Manny that attracts customers too, I think, because they look for these things. They want to work with diverse partners. We’re both first generation immigrants. He comes from the D.R. and I come from China. I was adopted but my mom is also an immigrant. I don’t know the exact percentage for our team but we only have one team member that is not first generation or immigrant. And we didn’t even intend for this! It’s just part of how we are and how we talk about our culture. We’ve become known for celebrating these things and we make a point of it, it’s very important to us. I hope that we see more diversity in this industry, and I hope that we can be part of leading that change with our model.

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

Design News N. 032

Design News is your tiny dose of design, technology and other important news, curated monthly by Interwoven Design. In this issue we take a dive into Checkerspot’s algae based polyurethane, Seratech’s commercialized carbon-neutral cement, Zena Holloway’s bio-designed fashion, Athos 3D printed climbing shoes and Patricia Urquiola breaking the mold in fashion.

Checkerspot Pollinator Kit
Checkerspot Pollinator Kit

Checkerspot launches algae based polyurethane Pollinator Kit

The bio-based material manufacturing company, Checkerspot has officially launched their new Pollinator Kit and it is available for purchase. Instead of using hazardous raw materials for making polyurethane, Checkerspot altered the traditional make up to incorporate an algae base instead of traditional oil. Not only is this product more sustainable but is so high performance that it is used in Wonder Alpine’s snow skis. Checkerspot is targeting designers and makers by putting their Pollinator Kit right right in the hands of people creating objects. Being able to experiment with a sustainable material like algae based polyurethane with an easy barrier to entry is a game changer!

via Core77

Photo: Helene Sandberg

Carbon neutral cement, Seratech wins Obel Award

Sam Draper and Barney Shanks, two PhD students from the Imperial College London, recently won the Obel Award for their carbon neutral cement, Seratech. The award is an international recognition of human development through architecture. They commercialized their research, which focuses on replacing a portion of cement with carbon dioxide emitted from factories. Currently, cement accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. Standard cement gives off stored carbon during its production process, while Seratech focuses on its Carbon Capture Storage (CSS).  Not to mention this new formula is easy to scale and low cost. This is a direct result of Seratech’s raw materials consisting of raw materials that are found easily all over the world.

via Dezeen Awards

Photo: Zena Holloway

Zena Holloway launches her bio-designed collection, ‘Rootfull’

Multidisciplinary designer, Zena Holloway presented her exploration of grass root grown wearables and sculptures in this year’s London Design Festival. Zena creates a template carved from beeswax and implants the wheatgrass seeds. She uses this template to grow a “botanical skeleton” while sewing, cutting, and manipulating the material while keeping the natural workflow to keep an honest result. The collection, “Rootfull,” features pieces including fashion wearables, a dress, wall hangings and a lamp all consisting of this similar organic texture. These naturally generated pieces promise that the same outcome will never be duplicated, making each piece one of a kind.

via Design Boom

Photo: Joshua Tree National Park

ATHOS, the customizable 3D Printed climbing shoe

ATHOS, a Spanish startup company from Barcelona, has targeted the need for customized 3D printed climbing shoes. The need stems from climbers using shoes 2 to 4 sizes smaller so the fit is as snug as possible. The pain comes second to this fit which is essential for performance. The company uses a phone app to scan a user’s foot and input other information including climbing type, color, etc. The following steps include printing, post processes and assembly. ATHOS takes advantage of a collaboration of technology of Sculpteo and HP’s Jet Fusion Technology. This allows the team to manufacture the printed shoe body easily then assemble the straps and rubber parts. The ATHOS team has recently been recognized for their innovative climbing shoes by being named a runner up for the 2022 James Dyson Award.

via Design Boom

Photo: Kartell

Patricia Urquiola releases capsule for Weekend Max Mara

Patricia Urquiola recently left her comfort zone by presenting her fashion capsule for Weekend Max Mara. This collection is dedicated to providing women with casual and informal fashion. Patricia’s past work spans the architectural, industrial and furniture categories, but has never released a fashion line. For this reason, she decided to break the mold and highlight her approach to fashion design. The capsule stems off of her extensive work in textiles and features her unconventional mixture of color. Her capsule entitled, ‘Habito,’ expresses her feeling that the clothing that a woman wears is her emotional habit. Instead of searching for a female silhouette with her design Urquiola focused on oversized, gender neutral elements. The designer explained how important it was to position herself in new situations with new opportunities and perspectives.

via Wallpaper

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Checkerspot: Sustainable Prototyping Materials

At Interwoven Design we like to incorporate sustainability into our process wherever possible, and this includes sustainable prototyping. In this article we outline our casting process and review the Checkerspot Pollinator Kit, a renewable polyurethane resin that can be used for casting. Our clients rely on us to develop innovative solutions quickly and economically, which means that we move from sketches to prototyping quickly. We iterate potential design directions in-house to reduce turnaround time and keep product development costs low. Making urethane casting molds in-house allows us to do small batch prototyping and testing at a low cost before sending a more resolved solution out to a casting or injection-molding contractor, saving our clients time and money.

How does the casting process work?

Once a design direction has been finalized and is translated into 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, we choose one of two casting strategies:

  1. We design and 3D print a mold based on the negative of the component
  2. We 3D print the component itself and then make a mold from it

The approach we choose is driven by the needs of the final component and the intended manufacturing material. If the final component is meant to be flexible or semi-rigid, like a high density foam part, we print the mold, as a flexible component can be removed from a rigid mold. If the final component is intended to be rigid, we print the part and cast a mold from it, as a flexible mold can be removed from a rigid component.

Once approach is set, the two-part urethane is mixed in the directed ratio to start the chemical reaction that cures the material, turning it from liquid to solid. If we want to tint our resin to more closely approximate the final product, we tint the parts before combining them as urethane can set quickly. The mix is poured carefully into the mold, trying to avoid bubbles that could detract from the final casting. The curing time can vary but it’s good to leave the casting for the maximum time specified as thinner elements will cure more quickly than thicker ones. In later stages of development the casting may be sanded, painted, or finished in some other way to make the prototype feel as close to the final product as possible.

Interwoven Design casting a mold for a prototype.
Casting approach 1: Our design team uses a 3D printed mold to cast a high density foam component for a backpack.

Incorporating sustainable practices

We consider environmental impact throughout the design process, pushing for the products we design to be sustainable to the greatest degree achievable for a given project. Considering sustainability at every stage of a product development cycle is essential to discovering opportunities for environmentally thoughtful design. These stages include research, form, construction, material selection and sourcing, manufacturing, and more. In early stages of a project, finding sustainable strategies for a development phase can take extra time and be restricted by budgets and practical constraints within the project. 

Access to sustainable materials that facilitate low volume in-house casting is a game changer, as the more closely we can approximate final materials, the more accurate our product testing becomes. Not only does it allow our designers and clients to hold, wear and interact with the product, but it allows for high-fidelity field testing and validation. Depending on the product category, a client may choose to test products in-house with their own teams or outsource testing to a team of engineers. The ability to quickly generate and iterate prototypes that closely or precisely mimic the final material keeps testing costs down and helps projects stay on schedule.

Checkerspot Pollinator Kit
The Checkerspot Pollinator Urethane Casting Kit features sustainable packaging and an algae-derived polyurethane resin.

Checkerspot performance casting materials

Checkerspot is a company that focuses on sustainable, high-performance casting materials, serving makers, designers and fabricators. Their innovative materials feature over 50% bio-based, renewable content, challenging a market saturated with oil-derived materials. They manufacture materials by “optimizing microbes to manufacture unique structured oils produced in nature, but not previously accessible at commercial scale.” Each organism contains oil that can be extracted, these lipids are the key component to Checkerspot’s biomaterials. Optimizing the qualities of sustainable materials like algal oil allows for peak product performance for the intended user as well as the environment.

The Checkerspot Pollinator Kit

We had the opportunity to put Checkerspot’s Pollinator Series Cast Urethane to the test in our studio. Our designer’s appreciated the thought put into the labeling of the kit components and instructions for the mixing and casting processes. We also liked the smooth user interaction with the sustainable packaging design. When we poured the mix into our intricate mold, the materials cured evenly and captured fine details, proving that there is no need to sacrifice performance when using sustainable alternatives to mainstream oil-derived casting products.

There you have it!

Here at Interwoven we enjoy pushing the boundaries between design, sustainability, material science and technology. Playing with new materials invigorates our design process as well as our studio-practice. Have you tried working with a new sustainable material recently? Tell us about it! Prototyping sustainably with 3D printing and bio-based material casting is just one way we can participate in the movement towards more responsible, environmentally considerate design. 

Check out our Insight posts to learn more about what we do at Interwoven Design. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!