Online shopping experience for 3D printed body parts
In the near future, 3D bioprinting organs, skin, bones, and cells will be a normalized occurrence. This project imagines the days of donating organs for transplants are already long behind us. People can now purchase parts built specifically for their bodies at a fraction of the cost. However, this industry is dominated by a single company that keeps prices artificially high to reap the benefits.
Daffodil is a direct-to-consumer 3D bioprinting company that modeled its aesthetic and business scheme after a glasses company, Warby Parker. The goal is to provide quality parts at an affordable cost in order to help as many people as possible live a good life.
The assignment objective was to “create a series of design fiction centered around a set of icons” with the basic requirements of designing 5 icons and putting them in context with 3 artifacts.
In the Visual Culture & Design course, students were challenged to create icons for a design fiction of their choice. According to Julian Bleecker, “Design fiction is a way of exploring different approaches to making things, probing the material conclusions of your imagination, removing the usual constraints when designing for massive market commercialization — the ones that people in blue shirts and yellow ties call “realistic.” This is a different genre of design. Not realism, but a genre that is forward-looking, beyond incremental and makes an effort to explore new kinds of social interaction rituals.”
March – April 2021
- Graphic Designer
- UX Designer
What I worked on
I researched current technologies and imagined ways they could shape our future.
Initially, I ideated how 3D printed clothes could shape the look and structure of our society based on new materials and tools. However, I ultimately created a design fiction about 3D bioprinting technology as that was a future that was more fascinating to me.
In order to imagine a future where it’s common to replace ears, hearts, and fingers I created a fictional company website replete with icons and copy to help customers make an informed decision.
What I learned
I learned that speculative design can be fun, but has its shortcomings. Without participatory design or input from a community, ideas can spur out of control. While it can be an interesting thought experiment, it doesn’t feel grounded in reality to benefit everyday people.
This experience also taught me the value of critiques. If it weren’t for the feedback from my classmates my project would not have been as strong. I’m thankful for my peers’ insights, questions, and pushbacks. It made me a better listener, more open-minded, and a better designer.
Problem – What Design Future?
I first began by listing current technologies to imagine how today’s technology will evolve and impact the near future.
Below is a list of future scenarios I considered:
- Self-driving cars
- 3D printing
- 3D bioprinting
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
- Data: a medium in art
- MIT Media Lab (Neri Oxman’s Silk Pavilion)
I challenged myself to research 3D printing & 3D bioprinting as I didn’t have any knowledge of these technologies and they were never discussed in my courses. Further, I was familiar with Neri Oxman’s work in 3D printed clothes & masks, therefore I wanted to learn more about 3D printing and her design process.
After confirming 3D printing as a technology to reimagine, I researched current processes in the field to have a better understanding of current scientific facts. A key takeaway is a three-step process, regardless of what is printed.
3D printed clothes
- Pre-bioprinting (biopsy)
- Bioprinting with bioink
- Post-bioprint (chemical stimulations)
Inspired by Neri Oxman’s research on Material Ecology, I further investigated 3D printed clothing process. According to Oxman, Material Ecology is “a design philosophy, research area, and scientific approach that explores, informs, and expresses interrelationships between the built, the grown, and the augmented.” I created a list of probing questions to better imagine this alternative future:
- What if 3D printed clothes considered decay in its design?
- What is the future of fashion in a world where climate change is impacting the materials we can use?
- What if water is so scarce that it can only be used for food production instead of clothing resources?
- Are there other ways of creating resources for clothing, e.g., 3D printing bioink/biomaterials?
- What will clothes/fashion say about individuals/society in the future where access to resources is limited? What are the hierarchies of clothing?
- Who has access to the 3D printers? Will only the super-wealthy be able to afford cotton & organically made materials from the Earth?
I presented my research and potential design route to my class during a critique session. Beforehand, I was certain that I wanted to create a shopping experience for 3D printed clothes. Rather than buying a cotton t-shirt, this company would require clients to purchase biodegradable inks and printers to make their shirts at home. However, after my presentation, one comment stuck with me and changed my design process.
That would be so cool if you could print ears in your apartment. How morbid!– Classmate
Most of my classmates were captivated by the images and research of 3D bioprinting and uninterested in 3D printed clothes. I also found 3D bioprinting far more fascinating, however, I thought 3D bioprinting ears at home would not be feasible in the future. Given the complex nature of organs, I assumed it would only take place in doctor’s offices or become a black-market industry.
Feeling a bit uncertain about my direction, I scheduled a meeting with my professor who offered three great suggestions:
- Follow my interests regardless of difficulty.
- Sticking 100% to fact is not required, therefore I should allow myself to have fun and be as creative as possible.
- Consider Warby Parker as a business model, as they were unique in breaking into the glasses industry when it was extremely expensive.
A New Direction
Thanks to my classmates’ critiques and the conversation with my professor, I pivoted from 3D printed clothes and focused on creating a 3D bioprinting company that has a similar business model to Warby Parker.
Warby Parker meets 3D bioprinting: (the below paragraph is taken from Warby Parker’s history page and replaced with “parts” instead of “glasses.”)
Every idea starts with a problem. Ours was simple: organs and body parts are too expensive. We were students when one of us lost her finger on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing one was so high that she spent the first semester of grad school without her finger, unable to write and maneuver. (We don’t recommend this.) The rest of us had similar experiences, and we were amazed at how hard it was to find body parts that didn’t leave our wallets bare. Where were the options?
It turns out there was a simple explanation. The 3D bioprinting industry is dominated by a single company that has been able to keep prices artificially high while reaping huge profits from consumers who have no other options.
We started Daffodil to create an alternative.
Key Questions Revisited
Researchers are using biocompatible scaffolding, bioinks made from living cells, and 3D printers to make cells, tissues, and medicine. Scientists have successfully 3D printed rabbit-sized hearts as recently as 2019.
Reading this news, I asked myself, “what would the world look like if 3D printed hearts were normal? So normal they could be treated like glasses?” and “would 3D printed body parts be affordable? Who would have access? Would there be a black market for these goods?”
In my fictional future, 3D bioprinting is normalized but expensive. Especially, considering the American healthcare system is unaffordable as is. I first turned to the black market but reconsidered, as cells and inkjet printers are actually readily available. Further, I was inspired by Warby Parker’s ability to provide high-quality and stylish products at a fraction of a price. I wanted my fictional company to do the same and provide a morbid product in a traditional real-world market.
Design & Iteration
I started the design process by researching iconography and imagery related to 3D bioprinting process stated above.
3D Bioprinting Process
To supplement appropriate imagery, I brainstormed the process of 3D bioprinting. Knowing the exact process informed my design on creating an icon that explains the situation.
This image shows the three-step process I originally drafted for 3D printed clothes:
- Take measurements
- Confirm ink selection
I recycled the three-step process from above for 3D printed body parts as the process was very similar. However, I adjusted the vocabulary and considered how the business could earn extra profits through using a traditional bioink or use client tissues to create a tailored bioink.
With the process confirmed, I worked on designing icons for each step. The icons at the top of the document are from The Noun Project, and the hand-drawn icons are my initial sketches inspired by those visuals.
Initial drafts of icons to represent the bioinks & mouth swab. This process helps customers decide which bioink is right for them: YourFormula which requires a mouth swab to collect their cells to create the ink using their own cells. DaffodilFormula, a highly effective generic bioink that does not require a mouth swab.
After creating my initial sketches, I selected one hand-drawn piece I felt accurately represented the process. I then used Illustrator to create vector icons of the original drawing. I created slight variations in Illustrator to understand what icon would visually work on a large & small scale.
I presented the above images to the class for feedback. I aimed to ensure the company, Daffodil, and its process was clear. I selected the name Daffodil as this flower represents change and the triumph of new hope over despair. Here are a few notes that impacted my redesigns:
- The person in the BioScan looks like a gingerbread man, which doesn’t fit the aesthetic of the other icons.
- Bioink which uses individuals’ cells (YourFormula) needs to represent the individual more. Right now it’s too generic.
- The legs of the BioScan & Bioink person is reminiscent of flowers; perhaps lean into that more.
- Ask yourself: do the icons match the overall aesthetic of the future?
I felt comfortable with the Mouth Swab and icons for 3D printed body parts (ears, liver, heart) as they had no critique. I focused the redesign on the Logo and Bioinks based on the notes.
The name of the company is a flower, Daffodil, which I wanted to incorporate into the logo. I drew a person that also had traits of flower petals. Below shows the different versions of this flower-person hybrid. The images circled were, in my opinion, the strongest visually.
I then turned the drawings into vector images on Illustrator. I decided to incorporate the color blue to indicate an altered body part. Blue is typically a medical color that is both calming and trustworthy. I did not think warm colors – especially red – would fit the aesthetic of Daffodil.
Since the original version of YourFormula was too generic, I brainstormed imagery that that reads as unique. The first thing that came to mind was a fingerprint, as each human’s fingerprint is totally unique.
I removed the leaf from the BioInk formula as it was not clear what that communicated. Instead, I used the droplet image from the 3D printed body parts for visual cohesion and for imagery of a liquid.
Final Icon Designs
Icons in Context
The final step was inserting the icons in the context of the alternative future. To keep my design future grounded in today’s reality, I modeled Daffodil’s website on Warby Parker’s current site. I did not mimic Warby Parker’s branding for Daffodil’s color palette. Instead, I chose warm yellow and blue accents and black text as it looks inviting and professional. It was important clients did not feel repulsed by the products but intrigued and supported.
I then brought my designs to life by creating a high-fidelity prototype using Figma. The aim was to create a website where customers can shop for 3D-printed body parts of their choice. Clients can learn about the process and purchase the required 3D printed body part from the comfort of their homes.
Below is a video demonstration of the Daffodil website.
Below are high-resolution screenshots from the Daffodil website.