Design is the product of the mind and the hand. What does design look like, though, when it's performed by the subconscious, and realized not by human hands, but by an algorithm?
These are the questions that Toronto-based industrial designer Nate Asis's latest project, the Digital Hand, asks. Hooked up to Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect controller, it's a tool for designing furniture and home objects with your body's motions, not through direct manipulation with your hands.
Using the Digital Hand, users can move their bodies to help design three different parametric objects, which can then be 3D printed. The first is the Skeleton Table. The top of the Skeleton Table is defined by lines "drawn" when a trapezoidal box is stretched between a user's head, hands, and feet (as seen by the Kinect), while the legs are derived from the positions of the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees.
The next is the Wave Dish, a porcelain-like candy dish with a rippling pattern determined by the the Kinect's ability to track finger points. For each finger in every frame of the recording, the Kinect draws a translucent black circle, which is then translated into a 3D topography for printing, resulting in a unique, wave-like pattern.
Finally, there's the Dot blanket, in which the Kinect draws a pattern determined by how close a user is to the camera. It does so by breaking a user's silhouette down into pixels, the size of which are determined by their distance in space to the Kinect: An arm pointed at the Kinect, for example, will render in a tighter knit than an arm pointed away from it.
Speaking to Co.Design, Asis says that the Digital Hand was created as a way to examine what it means to design something in a world where generative design is ubiquitous, and craftsmanship is handled by automated CNC machines and 3D printers.
"Possibly the biggest advantage to CAD software and digital manufacturing is the ability to create perfectly defined objects. It's really great in the way that things are exactly as rendered and what you see is what you get," he says. "But it's almost at the expense of the human connection. The Digital Hand is a bridge between the physical world and the digital world. Creating objects that aren't defined by perfect numbers or round dimensions but by the feeling of human intuition and spontaneity."
Sadly, right now, the Digital Hand isn't a tool that just anyone can use to design an object. However, if you like the aesthetics of what the Digital Hand can create, Asis says a ceramic version of the Wave Dish will go on sale on his website soon.