The Future of Design

The Future of Design

Thinking in 3D with Xintong "Eva" Qi

Like a snowflake, Eva Qi's '20 ideas start from almost nothing at all — a speck of dust, a wisp of cloud, a drop of rain. "I'm fascinated by the way the physical world intersects with the digital," she says.

The process of creating three-dimensional objects from digital files dates back to 1986 when the first 3D printing patent was issued to the American engineer Chuck Hull. Today, 3D printers have taken the world by storm, revolutionizing the way everyday objects are made. Stoneware vases. Bicycle parts. Cheeseburgers. Nothing is off limits.

For the past ten years, engineers and designers have used 3D printers to make cheap prototypes before embarking on the real thing, but that is quickly changing. By the year 2020, many experts believe the use of 3D printers could account for 50 percent or more of all finished products.

In principle, 3D printing works much the same way as traditional inkjet printing. If you were to print over the same page a few thousand times, a three dimensional model of each letter would eventually emerge. Though modern 3D printers have improved upon that concept considerably, the idea is basically the same.

The nexus of the 3D revolution at Pomfret is the Digital Arts, Technology, and Design Department. Housed in the duPont Library and chaired by Sarah-Anne Wildgoose, the program focuses on design, media, photography, film, and sound. Before becoming the chair of the department, Wildgoose was an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, one of the best design schools in the country.

"Eva is insatiably curious" Wildgoose says. "She sees the world from an entirely different perspective." As a student in Wildgoose's Design Build class, Eva fell in love with the magic of 3D printing. Before long, she had embarked on a string of successful design projects, each more ambitious than the last.

The first assignment was a snowflake. To start, Eva cut several designs by hand. "Computers are great, but I prefer to start with paper and pencil." After scanning her favorite design concept into the computer, she used a program called SolidWorks to further develop her idea, slowly turning a 2D image into a 3D model.

After four weeks of work, she was finally ready to hit print. And just like that, the machine whirred to life, its print head moving slowly (really slowly) back and forth across the build platform, laying down one intricate layer of material after the next. Eighteen hours later, the snowflake was ready. "It takes a long time," she says, "but is definitely worth the wait."

As a sophomore, Eva's future is bright. She already has a full roster of projects in her print queue, including a trio of models with movable joints. "By the end of the spring term, I am hoping to build a person, a wolf, and a bird," she says. "If I can imagine it, I can make it."