Writing a book:Digital Crafts: Industrial Technologies for Applied Artists and Designer Makers.

I was commissioned to write a book and my part is almost done. The copy editor sent me all her corrections, amendments and suggestions so the whole content had to be gone through with a fine tooth comb. Now there are 4 new images and their captions to collect together to fill gaps the editor would like filled! The publisher has started on the design of the pages so I ‘m looking forward to seeing the first roughs pretty soon.

'Coral' brooch by Elizabeth Armour

3D printed ‘Coral’ brooch by Elizabeth Armour

And what you ask is the book about? The title gives a pretty big clue. It is about how designer makers use digital technologies for their creative practice, technologies such as laser cutting and 3D printing. I want to inspire more designer makers to exploit the amazing potential these can provide and offer the information to understand the barriers and how to get around them.

This 3D printed brooch by Elizabeth Armour demonstrates this potential for both design and making. She used Cloud9 3D modelling software and had the piece 3D printed at the MAKLAB in Glasgow.

I intend to use my blog to share some of the information that didn’t get into the book – I was commissioned to write 30K words and did 74K so had to cut a lot out.

I am unsure how often I will get on to blogging as I am getting more and more interest in the courses we have started to run at Anarkik3D. Designer makers are wanting practical knowledge and experience of 3D modelling for 3D printing and we have different programmes for different levels of expertise. We cater especially for those who have no CAD or 3D modelling experience at all by using our haptic 3D modelling software, Cloud9 and having small classes of no more than 5 people.

Virtual 3D world is very bright and tangible – but not pink!

Fabbaloo published an article about Bits from Bytes about getting a new website and unveiling a RapChick at Euromold last week! What is a RapChick?

The new RapChick is a 3D Printer Kit  designed ‘especially for female users in response to the growing numbers of women engineers and creators within our community.  The RapChick features pink accents and unique branding that will appeal to this rapidly expanding, underserved audience’. Unlike Fabbaloo my immediate response to the above description was not favourable and neither were the first 2 comments to their article. Why is it assumed that woman engineers are not capable of building the Rapman? Many creators are capable too but there are those who also have better/more pressing things to do, like design, make and market, than spend precious creative time, and money, building for the technical exercise and a few quid off.  A good few like myself really don’t want to grapple with techie stuff: we don’t understand it nor do we want to. But we want to 3D print.

The RapChick’s ‘pink accents’ did made me see red as it seems that pink plus the branding were the only design differences between the RapChick and the Rapman! There is an excellent article by Femmeden http://www.femmeden.com/pdf/SmartDesign_SexontheBrain.pdf  that explains precisely why I was incensed. And all designers should read it. 

Seriously, I do applaud what BfB are doing but to truly democatise 3D printing (as BfB say they are doing), they have to also appeal to all rapidly expanding, underserved audiences. For non technical groups Rapman and RapChick kits are not the way to do this.

Development must be on usability and understanding how to include people of all ages who have different learning styles, requirements and preferences who want to engage with this very exciting technology. So thank you, Shapeways, Sculpteo, and I am sure Ponoko – I haven’t experienced their 3D services yet – for making the route to 3D printing so straightforward.

 Thre is a remaining barrier to more people being able to use 3D printing: how to create that virtual model. CAD is not suitable for many on many levels. It is prescriptive, has a huge learning curve, designed for operatives working with it almost full time, complex interface, too many functions that will never be touched or used, too expensive and difficult to justify when used sporadically in conjunction with other tasks such as making and marketing. It does not fit comfortably, for example, with the way many in the applied arts work within their disciplines of ceramics, jewellery, metalwork, furniture, accessories etc.

The main influencers to many budget holders, responsible for selecting and recommending 3D hardware and software for schools, colleges, workshops, fablabs, are themselves CAD users and do not fully grasp the divide that exists. Many in the arts have turned technophobic, overwhelmed by complexity and prescriptiveness, becoming a barrier unto themselves and teachers for their pupils to the extent that digital technologies are now off their radar.

I only fully grasped why our haptic Cloud9 3D sketch modelling software was special when I read the femmeden article (link is above) a few years ago – Cloud9 is INCLUSIVE. CAD isn’t. By using a haptic device to replace the 3D mouse, to give the user 3D ‘virtual touch’ and movement in 3D, interaction in the digital environment remains familiar. Cloud9 is so intuitive and free flowing, serendipity is a default. It is  easy to learn and to use, and fun (virtual 3D touch is special), caters for all stages of creativity (amateur to professional), can be picked up quickly again after a long break as the non complex interface taps into our more natural way of interacting in 3D, is being developed with the feed back from stakeholders and other users about what they want and need and how they want to work, and unbelievably the software and the haptic device bundle together costs under £500.

It can also be difficult to justify even this until the enormous potential of 3D printing is understood! And from Cloud9 you can 3D print your model directly. £500 then becomes a no brainer. Design companies internationally are buying Cloud9 as it fits into their design pipeline and complements CAD. Schools are purchasing: all kids should now be able to access 3D technologies. Colleges are buying into it too.

Previously I spotlighted Farah Bandookwala. She uses Cloud9 with Rhino, and Shapeways for tangible output for her whole Masters Degree Show. Have a look on her website: http://www.farahb.com. See Shapeways, Ponoko, FoC and so on for the rising numbers of applied artists working internationally who are using 3D printing to create wonderful pieces of work. 

Creativity and the inspiration for this fantastic work can be sparked off by having a good understanding of the process of 3D printing and the properties of the material used. The BfB products are excellent for seeing the build up happening and therefore understanding the affordances and constraints. Plus the resulting parts are inexpensive enough to experiment and play with so this valuable part of creativity is not checked by any ‘preciousness.’

What many of us need then is not so much the Rapman kit but a ready built 3D printer with easy processing of 3D data at an entry level price in a workshop/fablab nearby as this way it would get more usage and more people engaged. 

3D virtual world is indeed very bright and tangible.

Bits From Bytes

Farah’s jewellery: organic forms extending the CAD aesthetic

'Parasite' bangle1 by Farah Bandookwala

'Parasite' bangle1

This is the same blog that I have posted on our anarkikangels website forum – except is has a photo! This is about Farah Bandookwala, an MFA student, who has used Cloud9 and Rhino to design the range of jewellery that she is presenting at the Edinburgh Degree Shows (12 – 20 June 2010). All the work is 3D printed (at Shapeways) in different materials, finished, coloured by hand and very wearable. Here is her web site www.farahb.com where she has photos of all her pieces and statements about the concepts behind the designs.

Her work illustrates how Cloud9 can be used to advantage in combination with CAD to develop concepts to a high level of professionalism, to execute through 3D printing very exciting and wearable jewellery with a different aesthetic from that of the mainstream of digitally designed artifacts.

Here is a statement by David Poston, one of the participants in the DrawnReality Project, using the original proof of concept haptic sketchmodelling software that used touch, 6 degrees of freedom and ‘3D vision’ that has morphed into Cloud9 (haptic, 3 degrees of freedom, and very affordable). This was made after approximately 4 days using the DrawnReality application and an output of 9 designs which can be seen here with work by other designers and applied artists http://www.anarkikangels.co.uk/PhotoGallery.aspx?a=0):
‘Using a CAD system for design work generally requires that a clear idea of the output has already been established before starting to use the system, since to a significant extent the drawing process has to be planned in relation to the intended outcome.

By contrast, DrawnReality (DR) requires little or no preconception prior to beginning to work with it.  The process closely resembles the designer’s normal drawing process, but rapidly, in 3D.  Saving objects at different stages makes the process more tolerant of experiment and risk, because there is less economic imperative to commit to a particular avenue or train of thought at an early stage. 
If the 2D drawing of design ideas amounts to synthesizing approximations of the possible outcomes then the virtual reality of DR greatly speeds and advances this process.
Whereas CAD is a primarily intellectual tool involving an extensive learning curve, DR exploits instinctual capacity and tacit knowledge, allowing significant creative freedom from an early stage.
The comparative advantages of CAD and DR are quite distinct and complementary; each is an extremely important tool.’  Dr David Poston PhD FRSA 20.06.08

I look forward to a healthy discussions on this topic about Cloud9 being a valuable addition to the range of tools that designers can use to provide a new aesthetic to designing on computer to differentiate their work.

something just ‘clicks’

When people try Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 haptic software something just ‘clicks’. It is this gut reaction that is interesting as it validates the 4 years of research work (Tacitus Research Project) that formed our approach to development.  and is embedded with the values from designing and making.

 The main research site was Edinburgh College of Art and we had designer makers test the haptic software demonstrators in iterative user centred trials with their feedback informing all stages of development. Cloud9 is the result; haptic software which, combined now pragmatically, with affordable hardware, seems to be a distillation of designer maker ways of thinking.

I recommend this white paper by FemmeDen as so much in it articulates what we are about! Titled ‘Sex on the Brain’ it is by 4 women designers at SMART Design Company (New York/Barcelona) and is a call for a more ‘universal’ approach to designing and solidly references very interesting research findings. http://tinyurl.com/c9g35n

The Research team, and now the development team at Anarkik3D, is more or less balanced between the arts and science. There is a bias towards the arts, specifically designer makers and applied artists, and a bit towards women as a female designer maker (me) led the research project and is the companys’s CEO. Any overt influence is adjusted by a well balanced technology side!

The FemmeDen whitepaper explains why we have a more ‘unconventional’ approach to developing 3D modelling on computer when compared to that of conventional CAD and other 3D modelling packages which are very prescriptive and precision based. Yes it is more female biased but I prefer the terms non gender biased and ‘universal design’ as the Cloud9 haptic package appeals to designer makers of both genders. 

We are also serious about providing a useful professional level ‘tool’, one that enables designer makers of both genders to access all the benefits and advantages of digital 3D modelling and access to 3D printing. To slot in well to their pipeline of designing and making, it is crucial that a level of competence can be achieved swiftly, and retained, without jeopardising the all important time in the workshop to make, as well as the time to explore and experiment with real materials and processes as these are fundamental for understanding the constraints and affordances for making successfully.  It is through this hands-on process that designer makers build an important source of knowledge, albeit tacit, that is needed for good concept generation and designing. And by continuing to ask designer makers to feed back their thoughts to us to improve Cloud9 for how they want to work Anarkik3D can develop a valuable universal tool that suits a wider range of people.

This is a very good place then to thank all the designers, designer makers and artists who since 2000 have contributed to the development of Cloud9. Please stay on board as we will to develop it.

 See MA Student Farah Bandookwala at www.hapticjewellery.ning.com

Summer placement to create new jewellery designs

Farah Bandookwala will be working with Anarkik3D over the summer and her blog with pics of her work in progress can be seen here http://hapticjewellery.ning.com/.

She has opted for a Placement with us as part of her course as an MA Student studying at Edinburgh College of Art. Through a combination of processes including rapid prototyping, she is creating jewellery made up of modular units that allow the wearer to manipulate and transform the adornment as their sense of self changes.

Farah creating haptically

Farah creating haptically

She will explore the use of our haptic application, Cloud9, as a tool, on its own and to make CAD models more dynamic and organic, towards creating forms for rapid manufacture. By having the means to work more intuitively at this concept generation stage she can experiment more deeply and widely with complexity of form, and function to produce 3D prototypes, both digital and tangible to explore and test her premise – the possibility that identity is a fluid entity, and her aim to allow the wearer to convey this changing sense of self over time.

 “Through my work I argue the need for contemporary jewellery to develop and form a new, perhaps much more complex, flexible way of expressing changeable notions of self. Rather than dictating meaning through form or composition, I would like the work to be open to the wearers’ own expression of self over time.”

Anarkikangels as crowd sourcing

I had an interesting email from RHINO announcing that they are beginning ‘public development’ of their CAD software, i.e. using the crowd for iterative development via their feedback. This is mostly what AnarkikAngels is about and our website covers the main reasons for adopting a crowd sourcing model for developing Cloud9 as a haptic sketch/modelling application, plus funding the development. We spent the best part of 18 months investigating how best to do this, listening to both detractors, advocates and enthusiasts.

So it is very gratifying to read that Rhino are to use this type of model to develop their next version of their great CAD software from prototype to Beta to release. 


Also, on the 4iP website ‘38minutes’, where I have joined 2 groups, one of these groups, ‘Crowdsourcing for Crowdsourcing’, started a discussion last November. One stream is about the value of developing a tool for crowdsourcing. I am kind of sceptical about this as there are so many different reasons for crowdsourcing and therefore various ways of doing this – can one tool cover all the methods needed for different types of crowdsourcing without getting overly complicated (I am a great advocate of ‘slow’ everything …. but what has slow got to do with complexity, hey!)?


I have been mulling over this idea of a tool as we are going to have to develop tools for our website to enable us to efficiently and fairly manage the feedback. This is not just about information to inform development but also needs to be the communication channel for a) digging deeper into the why’s and where fore’s within the feedback received and b) reasons behind how we select to develop one feature over another. Maybe the forum format is the best method, with blogs to cover other issues that are pertinent.


It will be interesting to see how this pans out as I also think that there are so many tools already out there it is just a matter of how these are pulled together under one ‘roof’ as it were, hoping there is enough compatibility between them to avoid the domino effect where one crashes, they all crash!

All comments gratefully received!   See www.anarkikangels.co.uk

Anarkikangels, Cloud9 and all that…

My first blog. Will writing and putting words down in phrases, sentences etc, order my thinking ? Will putting down words capture and record those  ideas swirling around in my mind? Will this be useful not just for me and for my colleagues but also for those who want to know more about the other levels we deal with in the haptic software development of Cloud9? Will it be in a form that others can understand and interact with and to which I can refer to and edit?

As I do not find writing at all easy starting a blog is a bit crazy but we all need feedback and I hope what I get back is helpful and constructive . It will certainly contain pictures to help cut down on the amount I have to write! So here goes….