When Design Never Ends

Project timeframe
1 March 2021 - 28 February 2023
Amount awarded
Funder ID
Arts and Humanities Research Council

Project leader: Dr Patrick Pradel

Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D Printing, is a family of manufacturing technologies that build physical artefacts by adding material layer by layer. Unlike manufacturing processes such as folding, milling, moulding or casting AM can make shapes that would be impossible or at least very difficult with traditional methods

AM capabilities are transformative for product design in many ways, but especially because they remove the traditional barriers of upfront investment in tooling that mark the end of the design process and the start of production.

This can allow professional designers to change their designs continually without a clear end to the design process or a final design. As in craftmanship or software development, each iteration of the product can become a new improved version of the previous. So, the sequential structure of product versions can disappear and be replaced by a continuous design flow of potentially unique or personalised products with new, improved or simply different functions or aesthetics. This can bring great opportunities but also many questions and challenges. For instance, how would the quality or regulatory compliance of a product be assured? How much time or effort should be invested in the design of each iteration? How would brand identity be maintained? How would the design process be managed? Would product designers have more or less work? What new knowledge and skills would be required? Our ambition in this project is to answer these questions by uncovering cutting-edge design practices in AM and studying empirically how product design practice is evolving; thus, defining the implications of AM for the future of the discipline.

This project, headed up by Dr Patrick Pradel and Prof Richard Bibb, aims to provide a robust conceptual framework for understanding the impact of AM in product design practice; building a systematic methodology for studying the evolution of design practice; and presenting a new perspective through a comparative analysis of design practices across different domains and sectors. The data collected in this project will be transformed into a virtual exhibition that will inform both professional designers and academic research over the long term on the evolution of product design practice.