Sam Jacob has written an opinion piece on Dezeen that has a somewhat pessimistic take on the future of design and 3D printing. A world where “3D printing will merely bind us even more closely to fewer and fewer corporations” due to an iTunes like DRM controlled ecology with the only alternative being Pirate Bay style sites sharing inferior quality 3d files and bad scans.
Not content with only one negative scenario, Jacob goes on to imagine another, a world full of half finished, half baked mis-prints of ill thought out designs poorly realized. Ok, dropping an academic context to frame an overly negative viewpoint may help to give some credibility, but many people with great business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit think otherwise, people like Jeffrey Immelt the chief executive of GE, Carl Bass the CEO of Autodesk, and thousands of people using Shapeways to make and sell their 3D printed products to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Jacob does have a point when he discusses the division of labor from design;
“There is something undeniably appealing (to designers) in the removal of the production process between the designer and their artifact, a shortening of the distance between their imagination and its physical product. But part of this appeal is that it shifts the value of the object toward the designer rather than the labour of production.”
But this division of design from labor is exactly what makes it possible for a designer to successfully scale their works for financial success, this is not something unique to design for 3D printing, it is typical to design. The difference now lies in craft, where a craftsperson can create their work using digital fabrication and thereby scale their work just as designers have. Their craft may be in the manipulation of digital tools, voxels and code rather than with hands and physical tools, but is craft just the same.
3D printing is already starting to free us from mass produced, corporate controlled forms of consumerism. It is relatively early in the growth of a technology and many of us are all still feeling our way to find the best use of the technology, whether it be biological, mechanical, gastronomical or to simply replace current forms of production with a more agile variant. The important thing is that it is already available for anyone to use with an ever growing breadth and diversity of materials and processes. Thanks to open source projects such as the RepRap and research labs in universities around the world focusing on ways to leverage the technologies in a myriad of ways. There may be some major players trying to capitalize on the growth of 3D printing but there are also thousands of bright young entrepreneurs who will leverage the technology in areas that are so innovative they will blaze their own trail into the future.