Design tools for the Rest of us
By James A. Landay
there Are MAny who believe we are
on the verge of the biggest change in
the way products are made since the
Industrial Revolution kicked into high
gear over 150 years ago. This is not a
revolution where factories will make
products faster or more efficiently, as
with the earlier manufacturing revolution; it is one where individuals will be
in control of personal or customized
production. This idea, often referred to
as personal fabrication,
6 is that people
will have the means at home and in
their offices to “print” new physical objects to their exact specifications. This
is no longer simply a far-fetched idea
of science fiction. The ever-decreasing
price of 3D printers as well as the demonstration of printable plastic electronics and other such fabrication machines leads one to see that personal
fabrication is not far off.
Some might question whether individuals will want to design and produce new physical objects or even customize existing objects. Although it is
doubtful we will use these technologies for all of the physical objects we
own and use, the proliferation of customized t-shirts, shoes, posters, and
other objects available via Web-based
custom product shops gives credence
to the idea that a large segment of the
population will be interested in creating objects customized to their specifications. Whether personalized objects
will come through these Web-based
services or be created right at home
on 3D fabrication devices is a question
only time will answer.
One major problem often ignored
by this view of the future is how the individual will specify the design of the
objects they wish to create with these
technologies. It is one thing to stipulate a phrase to go on a t-shirt in one of
a large set of predefined layouts, colors,
and font families, and it is another to
define the exact shape, color, patterns,
and working mechanisms of a 3D part
or a complete product. Training most
of the public in the skills of industrial
design is simply not viable.
Design tools that can be used by
everyday users to create customized
products is the solution to the specification problem in personalized
fabrication. In fact, it is probably the
most important technical problem
that must be solved before the vision
of personal fabrication can come into
being. This is why the work of Igarashi
and Igarashi described in the following article is so important to the
future—not only for computing, but
for production. Many in the research
community have worked to bring powerful, sketch-based design tools to
non-computing experts, for example,
1, 10 musicians,
9, 11 multimedia authors,
2 and amateur animators.
of the most innovative work in this
area has been accomplished over the
last 10 years by the University of Tokyo
group led by Takeo Igarashi. The work
has led the field in the design of 3D objects by non-experts by creating design
tools that allow a user to simply sketch
a 2D representation and then have the
system carry out the difficult underlying computation to build a reasonable
At first read, this paper on designing
plush toys may seem to address a narrow portion of the family of 3D objects
that users will want to fabricate, but
these plush toys share many of the important characteristics of other complex design objects: different patterns/
colors for different parts, a non-rigid
filling that can change the shape of
the object depending on how the outside fabric is sewn, the production of
instructions to assemble the requisite
pieces to create the finished product.
The system described here is technically sophisticated. By making the
modeling and simulation phases concurrent, the underlying model is always
maintained as a realizable product.
This sophisticated computing makes
it much easier for the designer, as they
will never get into the trap of creating
something that simply cannot be built.
This paper is the first of what I hope
will be a series of design tools that will
one day allow the public to realize their
own personally designed products.
1. Alvarado, C. and Davis, R. Resolving ambiguities
to create a natural computer-based sketching
environment. IJCAI (2001), 1365–1374.
2. Bailey, B.P., Konstan, J.A., and Carlis, J.V. DeMAiS:
Designing multimedia applications with interactive
storyboards. in Proceedings of ACM Multimedia
(Ottawa, Canada, 2001), 241–250.
3. Buxton, W., Sniderman, R., Reeves, V., Patel, S. and
Baecker, R. The evolution of the SSSP score editing
tools. Computer Music J. 3, 4 (1979), 14–25.
4. Davis, R. C., Colwell, B., and Landay, J. A. K-sketch:
A ‘kinetic’ sketch pad for novice animators. in
Proceedings of the 26th Annual ACM SIGCHI
Conference (Florence, italy, 2008).
5. Forsberg, A., Dieterich, M., and Zeleznik, R. The
music notepad. in Proceedings of the 11th Annual
ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and
Technology. (San Francisco, CA, 1998).
6. Gershenfeld, N., Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your
Desktop—from Personal Computers to Personal
Fabrication. Basic Books, 2007.
7. Gross, M.D. and Do, e. Y.-L. Ambiguous intentions: A
paper-like interface for creative design. in Proceedings
of the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software
and Technology (1996), 183–192.
8. igarashi, T., Matsuoka, S., and Tanaka, H. Teddy:
A sketching interface for 3D freeform design. in
Proceedings of ACM SIGGRAPH (1999), 409–416.
9. Landay, J.A. and Myers, B.A. Sketching interfaces:
Toward more human interface design. IEEE Computer
34, 3 (2001), 56–64.
10. LaViola, J. Advances in mathematical sketching:
Moving toward the paradigm’s full potential. IEEE
Computer Graphics and Applications 27, 1 (2007),
11. Newman, M. W., Lin, J., Hong, J.i., and Landay, J. A.
DeNiM: An informal web site design tool inspired
by observations of practice. Human-Computer
Interaction 18, 3 (2003), 259–324.
James A. Landay is an associate professor in computer
science and engineering at the University of Washington
and a founder of its Design:Use:Build (DUB) Center.