Beatrice Mueller is a German industrial designer based in London. She specializes in consumer technology, homeware, furniture, and 3D printing. She studied Industrial Design at Pforzheim University, Germany and came to London to work for ChauhanStudio in 2010. In 2016 she moved to Berlin to work for BigRep, a manufacturer of large-scale 3D printers. Whilst there, she developed prints for trade shows, as well as working on the design of the BigRep STUDIO printer and a future 3D printing technology. She returned to London in mid-2017 to continue her work with Tej Chauhan. Beatrice enjoys challenging the limits of manufacturing techniques in order to get the most out of a design, in terms of both function and aesthetics. She wants to design objects that open up new perspectives and inspire people.
She is perhaps best known for the 3D-printed Ocke chair, which is an internet favorite and can currently be seen at the London Design Museum.
Beatrice, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
I was always into tech and arts as a kid so I eventually decided to study industrial design, which is in a way a combination of both. During my studies I got really into 3D CAD – it’s one of my favorite design tools. With 3D printing, you are able to see a direct physical translation of your digital creations which I find still very exciting.
I worked in consumer electronics for most of the time as an industrial designer, then I had the opportunity to work for a large scale 3D printing manufacturer in Berlin and went for it.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I first heard about 3D printing when I went to university. We had a 3D printer at school. Even though it was still quite expensive back then some friends decided to print a robot like a figure. I helped with the design process and the assembling of the parts.
The first thought that came to my mind was, that one day it will be possible to print a sneaker of different materials including textile in one go. I’m still waiting for this moment, but we are very close – Nike just released Flyprint, a customizable 3D printed textile.
As a designer, what are your main inspirations?
I don’t think there is one major source of inspiration. Inspiration can be based on something you remember from your childhood. Or you can find inspiration in different but related fields like fine arts or architecture, maybe sometimes even music.
In product design, it’s also very often just a need that you are trying to satisfy, a problem that needs to be solved. 3D printing is a technology that helps us solve problems we haven’t been able to solve yet or in the same way. At the same time, every technology has its restrictions which directs you to design things in a certain way.
When I designed the Ocke chair I tried to get most out of the FDM printing process. The shape developed from the printer’s restrictions in a way. I didn’t want to waste material. I designed it so it wouldn’t need any additional support or post-processing. Trees grow in a similar way. They can only build upon what’s already existing, so I took some inspiration from that, but I wanted to keep it as geometric as possible.
Why using 3D printing for your creations?
3D printing is immediate, although it’s still fairly slow. Back in the day, it took a long time to be able to see your creation in a fairly high resolution. You would make simple foam or card models which would roughly represent the shape. From there you would refine your creation in CAD and get a modelmaker to make a high-resolution appearance model. Depending on what it is this would maybe take a week. Now you can instantly test out the shape you created in CAD.
It can be even used for some end-user products, which is amazing: There is no need to tool up for the design beforehand. You can create controlled inner structures of products or topology optimized structures which you can’t make as easily with other manufacturing techniques.
Do you integrate other technologies as well?
I always try to integrate what makes the most sense for the project. It depends on the brief, client and budget.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?
At Cebit 2016 Angela Merkel came to see the Bigrep booth. I have pictures of her holding my chair design which I personally find very funny.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman designer in 3D Printing?
I haven’t had more challenges than in other areas. Obviously, the 3D printing sector is quite men heavy as is industrial design. Of course, you hear sexist or disrespectful comments here and then but at the same time, I had the pleasure to work with some men that respected me a lot and overall I felt really appreciated.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
I’m working on a 3D printing related project right now, which I’m really excited about. Unfortunately, I can’t tell too much about it just yet, but it will be released very soon. You should check StuStuStuStudio.com in about a month time if you are interested.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
Being able to print human organs is for me probably the most impressive progress in 3D printing. There are so many interesting sectors though whether it’s on a micro level with bioprinting or large-scale 3D printing in architecture, it seems like the possibilities are endless and developing very fast.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
It’s still a fairly new technology and there is so much more to discover. Nowadays we are surrounded by highly complex technology. Everything is so complicated that you can’t even repair things easily yourself anymore. 3D printing is inspiring because it’s not yet developed to the highest level. There is still room for improvement and creativity for both machinery and its application.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in additive manufacturing?
At the moment: Rapid Liquid Printing. I’m very curious about how it’s going to develop and which materials will be possible to be printed with this technology in the future. It speeds things up massively.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
I think it really did evolve amazingly so far and there is so much more to come. I would love it if it could really steer us away from mass manufacturing. So more products would be manufactured on demand locally. There would be less waste in materials and transport. It’d be amazing if more people could have a 3D printer at home and companies offering services to send digital spare parts. Rather than selling new products, you’d be able to repair or upgrade existing products. Being able to repair a hinge on your freezer door rather than buying an entire new fridge because otherwise everything still works perfectly fine – I think this is where it should go. It’s probably a very idealistic way of looking at it, probably not the most realistic in this capitalist world, but that’s really how I want to imagine it.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I think it’s just about being as open as possible and stop categorizing people without knowing who they are.
Most of us have been taught how girls and boys should be like when we were little. Nobody should feel restricted by gender-related ideas. It’s really up to us to make this possible for future generations and show kids that it’s great to be the way they chose to be regardless of their gender or other categories that society created for us.
Thank you for reading and for sharing!