Boundaries between analogue and digital tools "are becoming irrelevant"

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: digital technology is infiltrating all aspects of design and making, according to Dries Verbruggen of Belgian design studio Unfold, who has transformed a set of wood and brass tools into digital measuring instruments (+ movie).

Dries Verbruggen of Belgian design studio Unfold
Dries Verbruggen of Belgian design studio Unfold

"I think the time when we were either for or against digital tools is becoming irrelevant," Verbruggen says in the movie. "You cannot remove digital anymore from our daily life. So I think we should stop thinking as either one or zero, and start thinking of where we can embed [digital technology] everywhere in our practice as makers."

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

Unfold's Of Instruments and Archetypes project, which was developed together with Dutch design and research lab Kirschner3D and British interaction designer Penny Webb, consists of a set of instruments that measure physical objects and transfer the dimensions to a digital model in real time.

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

"Instead of measuring and noting down those measurements and transferring them to the computer, your measuring tool becomes a making tool," Verbruggen says of the project, which has been nominated for the Design Museum's Designs of the Year 2015 prize.

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

The tools can only be used digitally — they do not feature any measurement digits — but are designed to look like traditional analogue tools made from brass and wood.

"We used the insides of digital measuring tools but then moved them into a different language that also adheres to our notion of what a tool should look like," says Verbruggen. "We wanted to make it less technical and make it more of something that you could see lying around your own cabinet at home."

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

Verbruggen believes that such tools could enable designers to interact more intuitively with 3D modelling software. But he also envisions them being used by consumers to quickly and easily order bespoke 3D-printed objects in future.

"The way we always envisioned it is a way of customisation for consumers," he says. "We see it as an essential tool in an ecosystem of digital manufacturing."

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

To demonstrate the technology, the designers created software that enables people to create a bespoke 3D-printed part that can transform any glass vessel into a decanter – using the digital calliper to measure the diameter of the vessel and the thickness of the glass.

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

The calliper can also be used to measure a second object to act as the handle for the decanter.

"In the end you get a 3D-printed part that connects two real world objects into a new object," Verbruggen says.

Of Instruments and Archetypes by Unfold

The jugs are based on silver decanters designed by 19th century industrial designer Christopher Dresser. Unfold produced copies of these as part of an earlier project called Kiosk 2.0, in which the studio used 3D-printing to replicate iconic design objects. The idea for the Of Instruments and Archetypes tools grew out of this earlier project, Verbruggen reveals.

"When we copied [the Dresser decanters] we noticed that we needed something to measure the variety [of different shapes] and translate them directly to the computer," he explains.

Decanter by Christopher Dresser
Original glass and silver decanter by Christopher Dresser

This interview was filmed in London at the Craft Council's Make:Shift conference, where Verbruggen was a speaker. The Of Instruments and Archetypes project was filmed in Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week 2015.

Additional footage used is courtesy of Unfold and The music in the movie is a track called Trash Digital by UK producer 800xL.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is an ongoing collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers