KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Mar 09 2010

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Print your countertops?

Last month I returned to speak at the International Countertop Expo in Las Vegas. I’ve spoken at this same show for several years on topics of green design and materials, but this year they made a special request. They wanted me to speak to material fabricators and manufacturers and educate them on how to reach and connect with the architects and designers who specify their products.

So I sat and brainstormed a list of all the things I have noticed fabricators do well over the years (and another list of the things I thought they did poorly.) Soon I quickly had over 50 suggestions and tips of how fabricators could connect more with their architects and designers (you can download the slides here). But in making this I quickly noticed how strange it was no one asked for ideas how architects and designers should be reaching back to these fabricators.


The question of how architects and designers connect to materials and products is rarely addressed. It’s assumed we know what we are doing, but over the years it seems we have gotten good at selecting materials out of a catalog, yet have lost the ability to invent new ways to utilize materials. The result has been uniform-looking kitchens and unsurprising looking baths.

Lately I have been very excited about a new concept called, “desktop manufacturing.” Soon designers will have the ability to “print” their custom designs onto any number of blank materials and produce effects previously thought unaffordable. It stands to transform how we use materials and could potentially bring a new wave of creativity back into the hands of designers.

The artistry and craftsmanship of the Art Deco movement were born out of specific set of conditions: the collapsed economy during the Depression flooded the market with highly skilled, but highly affordable, artisans willing to work. Today, a set of now-affordable technologies are setting the conditions to bring us a boom in creativity. Just as Desktop Publishing transformed how we print brochures, flyers, books, so too will Desktop Manufacturing change how we make handcrafted materials again.


Think about it, when desktop publishing was introduced in the 1980s, new technologies like laser printers enabled people to be their own printing press. Now 30 years later, it has evolved to include a world with sites like Lulu, Blurb and Instant Publisher. The entire publishing industry could be replaced by crowdsourced alternatives that enable anyone to publish their own books.

The mass customization doesn’t end there. You can create your own custom shoes, your own custom messenger bag and even print your own custom M&Ms. Add this to the new distribution and sales channels on sites like Amazon and Etsy and suddenly anyone with a creative idea can reach millions and produce new types of products with zero start-up costs.

Imagine what we could do with something as simple as a countertop or cabinet. Let the Desktop Manufacturing revolution begin.

Eric Corey Freed is founding principal of organicARCHITECT, a California based green design and consulting firm. Freed is author of four books, including the bestselling, “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies.”


The Desktop Manufacturing Revolution
Fast Company Magazine

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 at 7:00 AM and is filed under Bath Design, Kitchen Design, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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