Ten minutes with... Assa Ashuach

The digital visionary tells how he is blurring the borders between designer, user and maker

The World Today
2 minute READ

What are you doing with 3D technologies?

The technologies are not new but now they are being adopted by people in the street and the major brands. Soon we will introduce new ways of doing things to make better products. To do this we need to get consumers – or users as I call them – into some kind of partnership.

How would that work?

If you are buying a shoe, it should be tailored to you because you are a certain weight and you walk or run in a certain way. At the moment you can go and get your foot scanned. Soon you will be able to do this at home with your mobile phone camera. You will be able to send the scan to Nike or whoever and you get a better designed shoe – and a tiny piece of excitement when it arrives. We can do even better by embedding sensors in your shoe. The shoe ‘learns’ how you walk, so that the next pair will be improved. If you give us access to your personal data, we give you a better product. You don’t have to do anything. This is passive interaction.

And what’s next?

The second philosophy of partnership is co-design, which is more active. We are unlocking product design to incorporate an element of user interaction – within safe boundaries. The user could be allowed to personalize the object by 10 per cent or 50 per cent, just not enough to ruin it. This can be done at home and then the file is sent off to be manufactured.

Where is this leading?

People will consume less. I believe that by adding your personal value, you increase the value of the object. It is a way to bring back what we lost through mass manufacturing. Part of you is embedded in the shoe, and you will appreciate it more. Also, you can choose where to have it made. We can give you a quote for delivery from Paris in three days or London in two weeks. The educated consumer may want to buy locally. Having things made will be like going on an online hotel booking system which finds where the available capacity is.

The story of the past 100 years is that people want solid stuff at low price. What has changed?

If there is extra cost in individualized manufacturing, it would be balanced by savings on product design, big production lines and storage. There is no waste – until someone buys it, it is just a computer file, and generally we will use fewer materials. My new Osteon chair, for example, uses only one third of the material which would normally be required to support a person. I believe that in the EU and the US we have educated consumers and they can be shifted to a new gear to form a partnership with the designer. This will be a spur to responsible consumerism just as powerful as some kind of annual cash reward.

When do we reach the future?

It’s hard to predict the future because progress is exponential. The next two years will see as much development as the past 10 years. Maybe in two years everyone will be talking about making shoes from foot scans, and they will be available in three to five years. I introduced the concept of objects that ‘learn’ in 2006 but they are still not out there. My experience is it takes five to 10 years to go from my desk to the street.

Name one everyday object where re-design would benefit us all.

The office chair. The chair we use today is an evolutionary mistake dating from ancient Egypt. That’s what I mean when I say progress is slow. My proposition is to sit in a different chair in a different way. One of the results is the 501 chair, pictured. Sitting at a 90 degree angle is bad for you. When you sit with a wide angle between your lumbar region and your thighs, you don’t need a backrest. I’m working on an office chair that uses the 501 method. So my advice is: sit with your knees lower than your lumbar region. This will change your life.