Progress By Playing | PDD

Progress By Playing


on June 9 2013

It’s not often artists are allowed to experiment with expensive processes, probably because artists play, and playing doesn’t give a good a return on investment as say rapid prototyping for mass production would. But a research and development consultancy based in Cardiff have shown that allowing people to ‘play’ with these technologies can help open up new processes even for designers who have been using these tools for years.

Roger Moss, a sculptor based in Cardiff for over 40 years, has always followed the traditional way of making his art. There is sometimes a stigma attached, he says, to new technologies; a detachment of ‘soul’ related to the work. He found however, after being allowed time on machines like 3D printers, he managed to engage with the tool rather than feel detached. This is down to the fact that these tools are intimidating, especially from Roger’s perspective, having mainly worked with clay by hand in the past. The emergence of these technologies beyond an industrialised use is something we can all get excited about. As long as artists and designers have a tendency to experiment, more branches of capabilities will spread to achieve as much as possible.

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The application of having robots make ‘art’ doesn’t provide us with solutions to problems, nor does it offer us a more efficient way of working. But what it does, is inspire the people working in the right sort of industries to be more liberal when it comes to experimenting with what is usually a very structured and linear approach to solving these problems.

So, apart from maybe the odd consultancy offering an artist freedom on their rapid prototyping machines, how will we make new technology more available to the masses? Let’s take an example which caught my eye recently.

Featured and above image credits: DO THE MUTATION

Collagene is an art project that uses many technologies not conventionally associated with art. To begin with a 3D scanner was used (“that must have been expensive” was my initial response too), well not if the technology has been made open source. In fact the 3D ‘scanner’ was an Xbox Kinect, opened up recently by Microsoft inviting anyone to tinker and hack its capabilities. The next part of the process involves using algorithmic data to map out the shape relative to the contours on a face. Complicated? Probably, but still free to learn and achieve through computer programming that can be found at And finally, in order to physically make this art piece? An SLS rapid prototyping machine was used, a form of 3D printing, which again is an open(ing) source technology thanks to companies like MakerBot. All these processes have been made open source which gives absolute freedom to hack, play and experiment with them. So, I think hats off to those out there who have allowed such technologies to become available to the masses. I urge you to take a look at the beautiful video of the whole process for this piece, available here.
In allowing an element of ‘play’ to take a role in the design process we can create room for massively varied results. ‘Playing’ isn’t the most profitably efficient way of using new technologies, I do find it to be the most interesting though. Designer Tim Brown gives a fantastic TED talk where he argues ‘we aren’t allowing play to occur in our creative processes’, and this is damaging to innovation. The problem is that technology such as 3D scanning and 3D printing doesn’t become a playful ‘toy’ until it is cheap; by this time we have bypassed all the problem solving that could have happened, and designed in a traditional sense. I believe we should incorporate and explore new methods of working during the design stages, it opens your mind and a whole world of solutions.
For full information on the project ‘Taking Shape’ with Roger Moss click here.