Insights / Design
”It’s the way forward in terms of form, yes — it’s a paradigm shift”
On how 3D printing will take over the design industry
15 Mar 2023

Who are you?

— My name is Simon Mattisson and I’m a furniture designer, using a big robot arm which is mounted with a very, very big 3D print extruder. If you look at my design, in a poetic kind of way, I think we can think of it as one circle drawn with a line that has been deformed into many internal and external curves together forming a shelf.

Tell us more about the production technique, the 3D printing.

— It’s called additive manufacturing, or AM, using a wood composite which I’m also developing in collaboration with my producer, Circlab. My whole thesis or idea was, can you take wood that is refused, wood that you can’t really use for anything else? In my case from dead trees which have been killed by the European spruce bark beetle, which is a tiny insect that, to put it shortly, is very bad. And I take this wood, mix it with polymers, and use it for 3D printing. It’s both to show an alternative usage for this damaged material but also, and perhaps mainly, as a way of using design as a means of communication, communicating this spruce bark beetle problem.

And what has been the most challenging in the design process?

— The whole part with material development — both my view on it as a designer and also the things you can’t really control yourself. For instance, if I have a certain idea, I’m not a chemist — it’s not like I’m standing and boiling a soup of material. So what I do is more to identify a problem or connect the dots. It’s about seeing that you can use damaged timber to make wood composites — you grind it down so finely that the structural parts don’t matter. Then, as mentioned, I also see ’another dot’; the spruce bark beetle is a huge problem in Sweden and in Europe right now, we’re not talking about it enough, and it’s getting worse and worse. Again, connecting the dots. And then when you transition it into actually making it happen, you get the logistics, setting up travel routes and getting the raw material, and going through different processes — it takes so much longer than I could ever imagine.

Simon Mattisson.

Quite ambitious as a young and emerging designer to develop your own supply chain.

— Yes, I’ve come to realise that. And I really want to emphasize that even though it has my name on it, it wouldn’t be possible without my producers, putting in the hours, expertise, knowledge, and problem-solving.

Are technology and new technologies like this the way forward for the design industry in order to make it more sustainable?

— I would say it’s the way forward in terms of form, yes — it’s a paradigm shift. In terms of sustainable production, I think it’s a way, but there are many different ways forward. Additive manufacturing has so many super specific quirks and boundaries but also opportunities that are so unique to it that you can’t really compare it to other types of production. For example, my furniture is made with 0% waste. Zero. If it breaks or gets dirty, you can grind it down and then print another one with 100% of the same material. In terms of that, it’s great. When you start talking about scalability and making 1,000 pieces of furniture like this, using this technique, then we may only have 3 or 4 robot cells in the Nordic and Scandinavia and you have to find your own way. But I have big hopes for the future.

Yes, you see a few initiatives similar to yours but there’s not yet so much large-scale 3D printing. Will we see that onward?

— If you look at how far 3D printing as a concept has gone in just 10 years and how widely available normal-scale 3D printers are to the average consumer. Before, it was a super special tech device, and now, it’s plug-and-play from your local supermarket, basically. Then the cost is of course a driving factor but things get cheaper with time so yes, I would say that we’ll see it.

Also, when we look at 3D printing, the aesthetics are quite similar to each other. Will we also see new designs? 

— Absolutely. We haven’t done more than peeked over the wall at what types of opportunities are available in the form. And that has become the driving factor for me: how far can I push the form, or form in general? How can I develop and explore that in ways that haven’t been seen before? Because honestly, I’ve been a little bit disillusioned by looking at furniture made 100 years ago, and furniture made today. And they are the same — it’s not really better in any way. I think we have space to do more and better. 

On his new furniture: ”I’d say it’s one of the bluest objects I’ve ever seen in my life.”

During Stockholm Design Week, you launched the second generation of your furniture line, Granland and you’re clearly an emerging name. What is it like in Scandinavia now for new designers after graduating?

— It’s pretty bleak and bad. I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been very lucky with getting a lot of exposure and press. It’s a very visually distinct project, so it goes well on a photo but it’s not like I’m a millionaire or making big money from this. And I’m still one of the lucky from my generation of designers…

What can be done in order to improve this?

— Small steps are already being taken when companies and institutions are trying to come up with ways, sometimes in partnership with schools, to exchange ideas and give young designers an opportunity to try to do something ’for real’. But at the same time, I really feel that the furniture industry is a little scared. They’d much rather take the big household name from 100 years ago and keep making the variants of that chair instead of going forward. And that is very sad. We do have scholarships and courses, so for the brands, keep on doing it, do it more — and give people a chance!