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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Would Michelangelo have used CAD?

It’s essential we don’t lose sight of trusted techniques as technology drives us forward, writes John Lamb

John Lamb:
John is a 3D branding design expert with 30+ years experience primarily working in structural packaging. He co-founded design agency ‘Tin Horse’ in 1990 before leaving to set up ‘Look360 design’ in 2016.

Technology in all aspects of life is changing rapidly. As someone who has worked as a 3D packaging design consultant for over thirty years, much of which has been FMCG-based for some of the world’s largest brands, I have witnessed and experienced all those changes in how we create our packing, from concept generation right through to manufacture.
Recently, I’ve invested in the latest iPad Pro and ‘pencil’. It truly has opened up a great new world for me. I have photographs of myself from the 1990’s, in front of my large drawing board drafting 0.7 and 0.4 thickness pencil technical drawings with which we used to brief toolmakers. Now, for a monthly subscription I use ‘Onshape’, a cloud-based CAD software that sits on my laptop, iPad and phone. I can create, manipulate and adapt CAD from the comfort of a café or train seat – as long as I have internet connection. I can also sketch and render using ‘Procreate’ much more efficiently and effectively than having to carry round sketch pads and markers or waiting to be in front of my Adobe software suite. No laborious scanning of multiple sketches or converting to .jpg .pdf for me anymore. However, inevitably, the world of creating three-dimensional objects we all interact with every day must involve some degree of, well, three dimensionality?

It may sound like the obvious but I have recently seen a trend away from hand sculpting, model-making and prototyping towards digital rendering, 3D pdf’s and CAD generated sculpting in the form of 3D prints. Whilst I am not knocking this – I have had a desktop 3D printer at home for the last four years and it’s been invaluable in helping me to communicate and assess designs from CAD – I do wonder if this short-cutting of the process of 3D design development is having a detrimental effect on the end products? There are many examples, on FMCG supermarket shelves, of badly sculpted bottle forms, ill-considered detailing or misfitting parts which just don’t seem to work together. All brands must tell stories, and part of that story is the experience of the end product and packaging we interact with. Not only the shape or form of the packaging, working together with the graphic communication, but also the feel in the hand, the textures, materials and mechanics – how it opens, closes, dispenses and elevates the haptic experiences. None of these can be thoroughly explored and communicated fully through digital communication. After all, a picture can tell a thousand words but a real object can tell thousands of pictures!
In a digital world where it’s increasingly more difficult to work out what is real and what isn’t, when our shopping habits are changing and we are buying more and more products remotely though e-commerce, it is even more important that we deliver that moment of truth, the object in our hand and in our home with better aesthetic design quality, functionality and purpose. After all, no one wants to be sold a lie.

I still firmly believe it is imperative that we create multiple forms of prototyping and sculpting within the 3D FMCG design process, and we must not lose sight of this as we strive to be, ostensibly, more efficient in delivering projects. In my personal experience the best designers have art within their hearts, but I wonder, would the great sculptors and inventors of the past have solely relied on CAD software if they were given the task of interpreting a brand story into a three dimensional object? Somehow I doubt it, even with the onset of VR, the software is just not good enough yet.

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