Liminal is an iOS app concept designed to make the process of digitally designing and physically fabricating objects accessible to a wider range of people. Aiming to blur the boundary between digital and physical creative expression by removing the high barrier of entry.
Liminal is designed to allow people with little to no experience in 3D digital design create complex objects that they can have physically fabricated and made tangible. The core essence of the app can be categorized into three components; designing, visualizing and producing. The first component allows people to design highly complex 3D models intuitively. Once they're happy with how the model looks they can visualize that model in different materials as a rendered image or in their space by utilizing Augmented Reality through ARKit. Finally when they are ready to turn pixels to material they can submit their model for production. The model is then sent out and within a few days they receive their product shipped back to them, exactly how they designed and visualized it.
This project was created as my capstone for the 10-week full time User Experience Design course at BrainStation.
The core problem is that the process of digitally designing and physically fabricating objects is limited to highly specialized users. There is a high barrier of entry to get into digital design. It is expensive, there are limited learning resources and a high level of technical knowledge is required to use the existing tools.
How Might We
How might we make the process of digitally designing and physically fabricating objects accessible to a wider range of people?
Core Design Goal
The core goal for this project is to simplify the process of digitally designing and physically fabricating objects by removing the high barrier of entry.
The app is composed of three core sections, design, visualize and produce. Design allows you to create your 3D model and customize it to a point that you are happy with. Visualize allows you to see the model you just created as a rendered image or by utilizing Augmented Reality you can see the model you just made in your space. Finally, once you are happy with the materiality and form of the model you've designed you move onto the produce section. Produce allows you to turn your digital model to a tangible physical artifact that you can hold in your hands. For the production phase I proposed that there would be a partnership with Shapeways, an online 3D printing facility that would handle all the technical production work. Essentially all you would have to do is fill out your information, pick a material and send for production, a few days later you would receive your finished product in the mail exactly how you designed it.
The video above shows the process of creating your first 3D model in the design section. To make the design process as intuitive as possible and keep the focus on creativity each design tool is manipulated through a slider. This way you can focus on the object you're designing and manipulate sliders to get a result that is complex without the technical complexity of other modelling tools.
As many of the existing programs for creating complex 3D objects digitally are desktop solutions, I was making the assumption that people would be using search engines over the app store to find the right tools. The marketing website for Liminal was designed as a responsive design to be an initial touchpoint where people could learn about the features of the app and then download it to get started.
Access to Technologies
Rapid prototyping and digital production technologies like 3D printers have become much more accessible to people but it still isn't at the point where people have easy access to them at home.
The processing power of mobile devices was a factor I had to keep in mind while designing this project. Would it be possible for a mobile device to work with complex 3D geometry and visualize it in real time?
Integration Between Technologies
The first step would be to create the model on the mobile device. But, once it came time to produce I needed to consider how would a mobile device communicate with a 3D printer? Is there a solution that exists for this connection and how would I design for that communication if it did?
If people are buying these fabricated objects and the entire design workflow is done through the app, then I needed a way to ensure that prints wouldn't fail. This meant ensuring that models created in the application were water-tight and there were no non-manifold meshes.
To gain a better understanding of the current landscape of the problem space and how people understand the topic I conducted a series of one-on-one interviews. From those interviews I was able to pull key insights which helped develop the project.
Value as a Tool
People don't fully understand how 3D printing works but they believe that it has value as a tool.
People believe that getting involved in 3D printing in any form is highly expensive, and you would need to be willing to invest to get started.
People believe that 3D printers allow them to create highly complex objects that might not be able to be made with other production methods.
During my time at BrainStation working on Liminal as my capstone project I focused on the Design section of the app. I would like to continue to design this project further to fully flesh out each section, these are some of the next steps to reach that point.
Complete All Sections
Design the visualize and produce sections to a level of completion that is on par with the currently designed work.
Research Augmented Reality Integration
Research and explore the possibilities afforded by ARKit and how to best prototype AR experiences.
Explore Interaction Opportunities
Explore in more depth the micro-interactions that would be integrated into the application both 2-dimensionally on the planar mobile screen, as well as 3-dimensionally through augmented reality.
Due to the scope of this project I have left out some of the process work. If you would like to see a more in-depth breakdown of the process work and thinking behind this project, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd be happy to share the documentation with you.