Peruse the shelves of any shop and you’re likely to encounter products made from a very short list of techniques: injection-molding, slip casting, pressing, and maybe CNC machining. These processes have been optimized over time for efficiency and cost effectiveness and a lot of what we buy has become uniform as a result. Uniqueness is a casualty.
Not so at the 2018 Design Academy Eindhoven graduate exhibition. Students developed creative fabrication techniques that yielded brilliantly weird, beautiful, and thought-provoking objects. The pieces frequently addressed the pitfalls of mass production, railed against the environmental effects of consumerism, and challenged normative forms. In the future, these techniques might just end up in products we purchase for our homes. Below are 14 standouts.
Vases baked like Swedish cakes
Spettekaka cake, a Swedish dessert, translates to “cake on a spit” and it’s usually made by drizzling batter on skewer that slowly rotates over an open fire. Designer Erika Emerén riffed on this technique to produce one-of-a-kind clay vases with tactile surfaces and vibrant glazes. “Why not approach high-end design as a delicious treat?” she posits.
A mixed-media search for meaning
Roseanne Ahyi wondered about all the shapes in 3D modeling libraries and how these predetermined forms affect final designs. So she created abstract sculptures using 3D-printed parts, resin and plastic molds of these shapes, and Styrofoam. Using different materials offered a bit more randomness in the end result. “It’s about the desperate human need to interpret everything we see,” she commented in her artist’s statement.
Artful imagery of trash turned into kaleidoscopic totems
When Elissa Sophia Assaf looked at photographs of mountains of trash in Lebanon—which is undergoing a waste crisis—she was fascinated by the colors and forms she saw and used that to inform a ceramic piece about bringing “something we prefer to shut out back into our surroundings.”
Creating design gold from mining waste
Mining is an incredibly wasteful and environmentally destructive process. Generations of gold prospectors—from the age of Conquistadors to today—have flocked to Colombia in search of riches. For his graduate project, Medellin-born designer Simón Ballen Botero explored how the waste products from gold mining—like heavy-metal sludge—could be diverted from rivers and used to make glass products.
Design made by the minute
Labor ends up being the most expensive part of manufacturing, which is why industrialists invented the assembly line and automated production and why unique handmade goods are so expensive. To articulate this connection, Diego Faivre staged an interactive project called Minute Manufacturing.
Using waste materials like cardboard tubes, plastic boxes, and leather strips, he designed and built furniture and covered it in colorful air-drying modeling clay. But there’s a catch: Participants had to pay for the pieces using Diego Coins (bought for one Euro each) and Faivre would only work on a project for one minute per Diego Coin he received. The more someone spent, the better the end result would be.
“This challenges the traditional way we value an object,” he said in his artist’s statement. “It is a reaction to the rise of mass production and a lack of individual expression in what is made.”
Tastes just like it looks
Taste is a complex sense: Over 11,000 aroma molecules help trigger flavors. For Atoma, designer Alexandra Genis created 3D models of spices’ molecular compounds using cocoa butter. You can even grate the bizarre, bulbous forms over food.
The platonic ideal of a beautiful day
When millions of people logged into their Microsoft operating systems, they all saw rolling green hills and a blue sky peppered with fluffy clouds. While this represents a platonic ideal of a beautiful landscape, no such thing exists in reality. Designer Millie Herpin subverted this “perfect” image by distorting it and printing it on fabric, creating a product for people who think perfect is mundane.
Extra pulp, please
3D printing is often heralded as a more efficient and less wasteful type of fabrication. Problem is, most of the extrusions are plastic—one of the worst materials for the environment. Designer Beer Holthuis wondered why there isn’t a mass market printer that uses paper, one of the most recyclable materials, so he invented one. The pieces it prints are beautifully marbled.
Came through drippin’
Exploring how digital manufacturing could yield unique objects, Studio Jochim-Morineau created ceramics using a machine that drips porcelain onto a rotating mold. The designers control what the rough shape of the ceramic will be by programming code into the printer.
Perfection is boring. Enter the grotesque!
“We live in an era where matter is controlled, passive, and obedient, formed by moulds and coated to the point of perfect smoothness, regardless of its own texture,” designer Elissa Lacoste writes about Grotesque Matter, a series of domestic objects that look droopy, wrinkly, and marred—created by free-form molding and sculpting.
“Today, the design-oriented exploitation of materials and landscapes is an omnipresent condition of human society, following rational rules determined more by capitalism than anything else.”
The aesthetics of burn out
In our output-obsessed society, fatigue is perceived as a weakness. Designer Léa Mazy thinks otherwise. Inspired by ink cartridges on their last leg—a symbol of working even though something is tapped out—she created a pixelated gradient pattern for ceramics.
Random acts of anatomy
When designer Lukas Saint-Joigny embarked on a furniture project, he didn’t want to be constrained by the expectations for how pieces should look. He also wanted to demystify how they were created. For Anatomic Construction, he jigsawed together random objects, which killed two birds with one stone.
Recycling the unrecyclable
Paper can only be recycled five or six times so mills end up with a lot of fibers that can’t be remade into traditional paper products. Designer Timothy Teven took this rejected material and compressed it to create building blocks for furniture.
A “tribute to the mundane”
Still lifes have a long tradition, from Renaissance paintings to all those composed grain bowls flooding Instagram. They’re typically perfect assemblages of shapes and colors. Designer Janne Schimmel flipped that expectation in Out of the Ordinary, a series of still life sculptures made from 3D prints of everyday objects he encounters, like his desk, branches in a park, and a dead bird he saw in the street.