In conversation with the Centre for Advanced Textiles (Part 2)

“We want to do things you could never do with mass production,” Andy McDonald tells me as we sit in the compact premises of the Centre for Advanced Textiles. From here, just five staff are delivering an on-demand textile printing service, retailing a range of classic designs on fabric, and exploring the boundaries of modern fabrication through several collaborative research projects.

One of the latter that Andy enthuses about is a project involving a “code-generated kimono”. For this Andy wrote a script that allows the user to arrange a pattern on a virtual diagram of a kimono, chossing exactly where to place elements of the design. The script then takes these instructions and translates them into patterns for printing on CAT’s digital printers, automatically calculating where seamlines should fall and making the patterm continue across them continuously (see bottom image).

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CAT's code-generated kimono- detail of seam

More recently, CAT is working with local design heroes Timorous Beasties, a small enterprise specialising in unique wallcoverings and surfaces for home furnishing. JR cites the Beasties as just the size of business that CAT would like to target and who can benefit the most from digital on-demand processes. The business employs 12 people, screenprinting all their own surfaces by hand in batches, probably the most recognisable design being their very modern Glaswegian take on the 18th century ‘toile‘ style. In their forthcoming collaboration, CAT are exploring new ways for customers to commission designs, using computerised interfaces to give the customer an experience which can then be captured uniquely in the product they take home. It is this factor of ‘experience’ that CAT see as the crucial value in digital manufacturing.

“Timorous Beasties’ strength is in the aesthetic. We can take that digital, building interactions between the customer and, say, the ‘toile’ scene.” In facilitating the customer in creating their own unique pattern, say as a character in their own pastoral scene, JR and Andy hope to create high value products that the customer has an experiencial, traceable link with and therefore will never want to dispose of.

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The results of one experiment in customisation hang in CAT’s offices

For Andy however, his work isn’t about customisation:

“Mass customisation has sidetracked the debate for 10 yrs or so – multi-production builds in flexibility from the core.”

Similarly to Ponoko, Andy’s vision is of completely decentralised manufacturing, fully exploiting the reduction in design, storage and transport overheads that the digital age allows. He sees the future for CAT as the first of many platforms for small businesses, that would then be able to offer their own web based fabrication experiences to customers. Accordingly, fabrication would become similarly localised and distributed, a system he tentatively calls ‘cloud manufacture’.

It’s an exciting discussion that brings us round to the rather more traditional example of tartan weavers – local purveyors of technical skills for whose customers negotitation and customisation were easy. And there are few things longer lasting and more globally pervasive than a good kilt!

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In conversation with the Centre for Advanced Textiles (Part 1)

CAT logoA couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of a very extensive discussion with the guys at The Centre for Advanced Textiles (CAT) in this very city of Glasgow. CAT is a combined commercial/academic organisation housed within one of the Glasgow School of Art’s design school buildings. It currently provides digital textile printing services to small and medium sized enterprises, whilst also quietly plotting a revolution in digital fabrication! I was speaking with researcher and interactions man, Andy McDonald, and surface designer JR.

The centre currently has 2 large inkjet textile printers, as well as the use of the small laser cutter down in the product design workshop. We talked about digital processes for textiles in general, the pair’s various projects in using digital processes for customisation, and the state of on-demand manufacturing.

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Bon Bon Kakku – No Thank You

Awhile back, I wrote about digital fabric printing. The great thing about it being that you don’t have to engrave or burn screens for each color, and that means unlimited color, unlimited design, no minimum order. And no minimum order is essential to customization.

Bon Bon Kakku lets anyone design their own fabric. Most people associate fabric with repeated patterns, but you can get anything printed on fabric. Once you’ve submitted a design, it goes onto the website for public voting. Top rated fabrics are offered for sale through the web shop.

Sounds pretty great – until you realize that you don’t receive a percentage of the sales from your fabrics. This makes the entire company an automatic write off for me. Not only am I not given any incentive to submit my designs, but I wouldn’t want to purchase anyone elses knowing that they weren’t getting anything out of it.
That said, I thought I would still share some of my favorite designs from the shop. And if any of you wish you could have your own fabrics printed without giving up your work for free, check in next week for my article on a great little company from the Carolinas.

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Flip Book

Create your own old school analogue Flip Book animation by uploading a video to FlipClips.com.
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FlipClips are individually crafted flipbooks, created using your own digital video. FlipClips are available in three styles, and are made using only the best materials around. Acid and lignin-free, heavy bond digital paper makes your video spring to life. Industrial-strength binding ensures your book will feel like a quality paperback, made just for you. Our design team can create customized covers to match a special occasion. Just ask, we’d love to work with you!

Available as Flip Books, Greeting Cards or Story Books, you can custom make your old school analogue animation..
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Would be interesting to see what could be done by sending in some hyper processed animation, or maybe even your reinterpretation of the Radiohead video clip
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Mass customization in the palm of your hand, Flip It

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Machinate: blurb = Real books. Made by you.

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Here at Ponoko it’s all about making it real. Blurb is to publishing what Ponoko is to laser cutting. This incredible site/store/service let’s you upload any print based content you want and have it printed into a professional, quality book. So incredible, that it won this year’s 2008 Webby Award for Best Service Website.

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My first experience with Blurb came through my professor in art school. Our small graduating class of around thirty created a catalog for our senior show. Each student got a full spread and there were photos in the back. We ordered eighty 7×7 inch paperbacks at $12.95 and sold them at the show’s reception for $20. We sold out in just over an hour.

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While we went with the cheapest option, there are four different book formats and both come in either softcover or hardcover. Just last month, Blurb announced ImageWrap – the ability to print a full-color, matte hardcover. Or choose the original black linen with dust jacket.

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To start designing your own book you download their software called Blurb Booksmart. This super simple interface gives you a huge selection of different cover/jacket designs and interior templates to work with or you can go blank. There’s an extensive list of themes and patterned backgrounds available, all of your essential fonts, a bank of icons and ornaments, and the RGB gamut of color.

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Photos can be uploaded from your desktop or from a list of social networking photo spaces like Flickr, Picasa and most recently Facebook. Blurb also allows collaboration on book creation with GroupBook. With GroupBook you can designate your friends and family as contributors and they can upload their photos into your book!
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And don’t forget, your creation deserves attention. So Blurb let’s you share it in the bookstore. That’s book STORE. Blurb prints your book on-demand for buyers for a flat fee of five bucks (plus the base price of making the book) and you set the retail. Buyers can preview the first 15 pages of the book with a Flash-based preview that let’s you flip through the pages with your mouse.
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One of my favorite things about Blurb is there sincere effort to be an honest service. There are no gimmicks, hidden costs or secrets to what’s going on. There’s a healthy community of forums, a page full of tutorials, profiles of the Blurb team, and of course, a blog.

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On Site: Designed Conversation at ICFF (Part3)

!Update to Part 2: It seems like the “Shelter Screen” was carried on into the final rounds for ICFF. See below.

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As SCAD students of the Designed Conversation course created different bedding solutions for the clients of Growing Hope of Union Mission, one of the most challenging problems was a structure that actually provided shelter for the homeless living on the street.

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This was the prototype presented at the end of April during critique. The canvas slip cover fits over a standard bi-folding lawn chair. Inside the flap was a layer of tulle to represent mosquito netting. There were conversations about how to secure the flap while preventing liquid from dripping inside, how to make the netting functional and convenient, and how to transport the entire structure on one’s back.

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Above, a student demonstrates the room within the structure and possible issues with not being able to sit up.

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It seems that a more dome-like silhouette was the group’s solution. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see this prototype, but it looks like the project really came together for ICFF.

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At the end of the critique, I sat down with each groups “documentarians.” Rubi McGrory, a Graduate Fibers student, Alice Meiss and Kathleen Imig, both undergraduates in Fibers, were responsible for documenting the process of their groups, collaborating on the mission statement, and putting together the site for Designed Conversation.

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On Site: Designed Conversation at ICFF (Part2)

The interdisciplinary course Designed Conversation at Savannah College of Art and Design started around a competition sponsored by the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

“Given departmental emphasis on community outreach and, increasingly, small-scale production, fibers program members explore conscientious design and sustainable, socially responsible studio practice as a matter of course. For the past two years, the program has worked with the Growing Hope Artisans Cooperative, which provides creative programming for the homeless. This year, fibers students are delving into the issue of bedding for Growing Hope clients. Issues confronting the students include the relationship of inside/outside, portability, and the difference between consumer-driven and community-oriented products.”

-from the ICFF announcement

The last post Front and Center: Designed Conversation at ICFF (Part1) covered a product concept for people in transitional housing. This post covers the second prototype that focuses on the needs of individuals living in shelters. When I attended the final critique, the prototype looked like a three panel room divider with fabric pockets.

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Each fabric panel was 15 inches wide and attached to pvc pipe. The idea was to use found materials to create pockets at different heights of the panels for those sleeping on the top or bottom bunk. The screen would provide storage as well as privacy. Issues arose at this last critique on the construction around the stitched sleeves of the panels, the stability of the light weight pvc, as well as the inconvenience of repositioning the screen in order to climb on the top bunk. The students must have seriously evaluated these issues, because less than two weeks later their prototype looked like this.

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Storage is given precedent with an expandable shelf, as opposed to fabric pockets. Contents can be kept out of sight, and there is a fold out shelf.

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These are the latest photographs I have of the prototype, but Fibers professor Jessica Smith reported that the final prototype for ICFF incorporates over 10 yards of digitally printed polyester.
Here’s the front of their promo card. Return tomorrow for coverage of the final design which offers a sleeping solution for men and women who must live on the street and a few words from the students reflecting on how this project has affected them as designers and as people.
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Machinate: The Mimaki Tx2-1600

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The Mimaki Tx2-1600 is just one of the many digital textile printers on the market, but the one I have had the most experience with. Before I get into how it works, here’s a very brief description and history of textile printing from The Colour Museum.
Basically, the image must be divided by color, and every part of the image that is a particular color will be burned into a screen. This must be done for each color to be printed. For those of you in the graphic design field, it can be compared to a separate screen created for each spot color. Thus for every color in a textile, the amount of labor and cost go up – which can be a big limitation for independent designers.

Inkjet printing brought the ability to put a color image on paper to the masses, and the same is happening with digital fabric printing. In the case of fabric, the printing is done with dyes not inks. And because the image is comprised of pixels, there is no limit to the amount of color. It is essentially CMYK, four color process with capabilities for four extra colors.

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Before printing the printer must be set up and tested. There are two different sides of dye cartridge slots. This is because fiber reactive dyes are best for cellulosic or plant based fibers such as cotton, rayon, linen or hemp. Acid dyes are best for protein based fibers like wool and silk and for synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester. Plastic gallon containers hold the excess dye from the printing process.
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Next, the fabric bolt is put onto the printer. Specially coated and paper-backed fabric that comes on a roll is first placed at the foot of the printer between two plastic ends that support the roll. In order to make sure that the fabric is aligned evenly, the edge of the paper lines up with a triangle on the printer. There is a laser that detects the edge of the fabric and keeps it aligned throughout the printing. This laser is adjusted by a switch on a box attached to the bottom of the printer. The fabric is then carefully pulled in an over-under fashion through 3 cylinders to maintain the tension and then fed through the top and clamped down.

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Xoddo Let’s Kids Design

What’s In Store will be a weekly topic that covers the products and/or processes of physical or virtual stores. Just yesterday, Xoddo went live to the world. I came across this company via a blurb on Dexigner and decided to check it out. Xoddo is a website that allows customers to design their own stuffed toy based on a single template.

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Creator Russell Benfanti writes, “As an illustrator and designer I’ve been creating monsters and creatures for years. In fact I’ve had so much fun making monsters for others, that I thought it would be fun to give everyone the opportunity to design their own”.

Russel’s right. It is fun to design your own. And once you do, you can choose to have your Xoddo made, print it out, or share it with others in the gallery. For those overwhelmed by starting from scratch, there are the ‘Starters’ and ‘Randomizer’ features which begin the designing for you. Here are a couple I did on my own.

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As Duann mentioned in his post on The Four Faces of Mass Customization, Xoddo is of the Adaptive sort. And I think it works really well, especially for a product intended for children. Here are some pictures of actual samples. It looks like all of the fabrics are being digitally printed… a topic I promise to write about soon.

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