Crafting a digital niche

WINNING DESIGN: Mr Zheng is the winner at this year's Furniture Design Awards, an annual competition organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council. His winning creation was the Torus Lamp (above).
Crafting a digital niche

UNIQUE: Different variants of Fusili, a springy bracelet which is a 3D-printed creation.


    Apr 29, 2014

    Crafting a digital niche

    SOME designers create products the old-school way - sketching either by hand or using a computer, then creating prototypes.

    But not Clement Zheng, who calls himself a "digital craftsman", as his works tend to employ algorithms or digital fabrication.

    But he is quick to add that, as an industrial designer, he is always very grounded in physical processes and efficiency.

    "I would say that I am an extremely logical designer, and it is not just for the problem-solving aspects of the project, but also in communication and design expression as well," he says.

    Now a teaching assistant at National University of Singapore (NUS), Mr Zheng, 27, graduated with first-class honours in Bachelor of Arts (Industrial Design) from NUS two years ago.

    While being a teaching assistant at NUS is his full-time job, he also creates his own projects on the side.

    "As a designer, I find the dichotomy between the digital and physical a rich area to explore.

    "What I hope to achieve as a designer is to develop projects that are both digitally and physically relevant; that is, to create holistic experiences that can really make use of the best of both worlds," he says of his career choice.

    His focus is on digital design, not just for products, but also looking at services and experiences.

    "Most of my works thus far are from my design research on the intersection between craft and computer," he says.

    Mr Zheng is the winner at this year's Furniture Design Awards, an annual competition organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council that celebrates the best achievements in furniture design.

    His winning creation is the Torus Lamp, a series of digitally fabricated pendant lights assembled from paper modules.

    Mr Zheng developed a set of algorithms that is able to deconstruct three-dimensional geometry into flat modules.

    Through a computer application, a person can customise the size and form of the lamp to suit different contexts.

    The application then generates the flat modules required to assemble the lamp.

    The lamps are very material efficient, each one requiring a single A1 sheet to produce, while the specialised joints designed ensure that minimal accessories are required to put the lamp together.

    "In this sense, the Torus Lamp is a design that can exist within a small community, where the design, fabrication and distribution can all be kept very localised," he said.

    He said he is also interested in 3D printing for "its strength in producing geometrically complex objects in a made-to-order manner".

    His 3D printing creations include Fusili, a springy bracelet generated from a mathematical algorithm that he designed.

    By changing the algorithm, different variations of the bracelet can be created.

    The chosen variant can then be 3D-printed into a bracelet and even be dyed in different colours.

    Mr Zheng is now exploring the idea of mass customisation, such as developing an algorithm that is able to digitally tailor fashion, in such a way that clothes will fit anyone, rather than the buyer trying to fit into fixed silhouettes.

    "With this algorithm, hopefully fashion houses would be able to develop services that can produce tailored garments, yet within the efficiency of digital fabrication techniques," said Mr Zheng.

    Mosaic STL is another project that he is working on, which again involves algorithms, to transform a 3D file into a colourful sculpture, achieving an uncanny mosaic tiling through digital means rather than the traditional craft.

    His dream project, however, goes beyond merely creating objects.

    "A project that I would love to do right now would be one that encompasses another discipline or field, such as a medical project, or maybe even something educational for children," he said.

    "I think crossing disciplines would really bring in fresh ideas and not cause me to stagnate."