An example of gender defiance in design
We talk with Tim Schütze, a Berlin- based industrial designer who has worked on the topic of gender-sensitive design and the question of how we can overcome gender stereotypes and inequalities in design for his BA thesis. As an example, he has chosen a bike saddle to demonstrate a design process in which paramatric CAD models are adapted based on individually collected data and then 3D printed individualised and on demand. This is how PRO/CESS was born, a project that has been published in magazines such as Designboom and has just been exhibited at the last 'Salone Internazionale Del Mobile' in Milan.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us how and when did you discover 3D Printing?
Hi, my name is Tim Schütze and I just graduated with the bespoken project from the University of applied sciences Berlin. I studied industrial design and therefore faced a lot of interesting manufacturing techniques during my studies - with 3D printing being the most common. But it was until my internship two years ago at WertelOberfell, a small design office in Berlin, that I fell in love with 3D printing not just to visualise proportions or create design models, but to question material properties and conventional manufacturing with rather experimental approaches. Printing flexibles is one field that offers this kind of experimental, cutting edge possibilities when it comes to functional prototypes.
How did you come to the conclusion to create a gender-sensitive bicycle saddle?
The whole project originates from my design theoretical thesis, where I question gender norms, power structures and patriarchal hierarchies in the field of product design and eventually outline a framework for gender-sensitive design. In the search for product-contexts that are dominated by the gender binary and normative standards I found bike-saddles to be a suitable scenario to rethink the product in a gender-sensitive way. Apart from that I’m also a bike enthusiast and therefore bring a lot of knowledge that helped me to really dig deep into both, the idealistic but also the applied and technical dimension.
How does it work?
PRO/CESS is a gender-sensitive, fully customised and additively manufactured bike saddle. In contrast to determined products, the concept embraces an open and adaptive process that focuses on the particular needs of users and rejects gendered standards.
The process follows the principle of input/algorithm/output:
- The input is formed by the individual data of the users, which is gathered decentrally with an app.
- Utalising simple image recognition technology, a 3D model of the butt is created.
- Corresponding ergonomic data is then derived and additional preferences are entered.
- Based on this, the algorithm adjusts the shape, size, padding and look of the saddle in the CAD model and is constantly optimised with new data sets.
- Print data for FDM and SLS printing is then generated and made available as output.
- Finally, users have the choice of printing the saddle themselves, sharing the order in the maker community or ordering the saddle from a microfactory.
In addition to the individual product, the process focuses on participation and flexibility. It is fluid in its form and can react agilely to feedback and external influences. In this way, standards of gender differentiation become obsolete and non-binary, empowering perspectives are present instead.
What were the challenges you faced in this project?
Apart from the conceptual complexity of combining user experience, algorithms & coding and the applied production, the biggest challenge was the material study I conducted along the process. I printed more than 200 samples and had multiple 3D printers running for countless hours to really understand the TPMS-Structures and its parameters in combination with flexible materials. This is also where Filaflex comes into play as they provided me with different flexible TPU filaments for the study. The biggest challenge thereby was the optimisation of the printing parameters to maximise both reliable quality and fast production. As a result I transferred the properties into the parametric algorithm and can now precisely tune the flexible structures utilising for example wall-thickness ramps or modifications to the cell-spacing. Parameters such as extrusion-multiplier, layer-height and gap-fill also affect the result and ultimately it is also extremely important that the TPU material is dried well for fast and high quality prints.
What are the main advantages of additive manufacturing for this particular application?
AM is crucial for this concept as it empowers radical mass customisation. FDM printing in particular allowed me to work on real prototypes in the home workshop and assures apart from that a broad accessibility as the machines are really cheap and mostly open to modify and tune. With technologies such as SLS printing, it is possible to produce custom high strength parts that don’t need any post processing.
How did you discover Filaflex and why did you choose Filaflex for your bike saddle?
I was looking for brands that produce high quality flex filaments and also offer multiple shore-hardnesses so that I can test their properties side by side. Filaflex is a well known name in this domain so I contacted them and was super happy about their willingness to collaborate. The first test prints proved why Filaflex is leading the game speaking of flex-properties, consistency, color, etc. Also the packaging and customer support from Filaflex stands out from its contenders so I really appreciate the collaboration. At this point the consistency of Recreus filament diameters earns a special mention not only in flexibles but also for example the PETG that produces super smooth surfaces because of its high quality. Definitely worth a recommendation.
What advantages and benefits bring Filaflex to your bike saddle?
As already mentioned above, the consistency and quality of Filaflex filaments allows for the parameters to work properly on various Printers. The FDM printed upper in general has the big advantage of repairability and adjustability as it can be produced very cheaply and easily. It is also a very clean and eco-friendly way of production as there are no chemicals or resins used compared for example with printing and post processing SLA parts.
What is your vision of 3D printing in the field of saddle printing?
In my vision the technology of 3D printing, both FDM and more sophisticated SLS processes, helps to overcome the focus on male dominated standards and heteronormative unisex versions that is present right now in the broad world of ergonomically challenging products. In the context of bike saddles, 3D printing can help to overcome the differentiation along the gender binary, thus enabling perfectly fitting saddles and embracing the empowerment of gender equality and diversity.