Product designer Lilian van Daal bridges with her work the natural and the artificial – or designed – world. She experiments with innovative technologies and materials in order to meticulously mimic nature. With the resulting objects, she aspires to reveal nature’s rich library of solutions. The emphasis is on the imitation and adjustment of structures to optimize production methods in a sustainable way. She won several awards like Public Award Ontwerp en Innovatieprijs Gelderland, the Volvo Design Challenge 2015 and the Bio Art and Design Award 2016. In 2018 she was selected as one of the design talents by the Creative Industries. Her work has been exhibited in Milan, Vienna, Madrid, Peru, Argentine and several places in The Netherlands. In 2017, a sustainable concept for car seating ‘Shapes of Sweden’ has been acquired by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. Over the years she has worked for Studio Drift, Feiz Design, Bleijh Concept & Design, and StudioMOM. 

Lilian, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?

I graduated in Industrial Product Design from the Technical University in 2010. For several years I worked at well-known industrial design studios in the Netherlands, like studio Drift and studio MOM. Then I decided to continue with a postgraduate degree with the Royal Academy of Art in conceptual design. It is during my time with the Royal Academy of Art that my interest in biomimicry started. This is a principle in which you look at nature and biological processes in order to innovate products and production methods. 3D printing is the best production method since it allows meticulous imitations and local production. Also, it allows circular production thanks to recycled PA materials.

The emphasis in my work was on reproducing structures from organisms and other natural phenomena and implement that in the production of soft seating. This is still a very unsustainable production process: a lot of materials are used, like wood, metal, foam, fabrics etc which don’t easily contribute to a circular production process. All these components are glued together and unable to recycle in the end. I started to question myself: How would nature design a multi-functional material with the qualities and functionalities of softseating. In nature, one single material is composed out of different structures to create a function. This inspired me to remodel and amplify structures, for example from uni-cellular organisms, which I 3D printed. In nature, a material is developed layer by layer. In our industrial world, the best way to ‘grow’ material and recreate these very complex structures is by means of 3D printing. Thanks to this technique, I was able to create a sofa out of one single material with all the functionalities like construction, ventilation, comfort etc. The result is a circular sofa or chair.  

My intention with my work is to raise awareness for a more sustainable and local production method that is empowered by 3D printing.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

At the technical university, we used 3D printing as a prototyping process and more for specific compartments of a product. Not so much as a production method for a complete product like a chair. I have been changing my approach towards the technique over the years.

Where does your inspiration come from?  

As a designer, I was always inspired by the things that we take for granted or the common things in life. I want to contribute to the re-appreciation of things, objects and more specifically our environment. Especially during my graduation four years ago, when I discovered biomimicry, the latter part intensified: nature is my source of inspiration. The intricate shapes of flowers. The mesh-networks of fungi. The perfect geometry of organisms. They have been crafted, remodeled and burnished during billions of years of biological trial and error. This fascinates me endlessly.

Why using Additive Manufacturing for your creations?

Implementing nature’s unique and meticulous properties in design has been difficult, but recent technology, more specifically Additive Manufacturing, has fueled possibilities for new development of products and systems. Until now there is no other production method that enabled me to mimic structures and patterns so precisely as additive manufacturing.   

Do you integrate other technologies as well?

It depends on what the outcome needs to be and what the goal is. I develop other projects like lighting solutions and other interior design products for which 3D printing is not a feasible method. Not for every product 3D printing is required. Also, 3D printing is still quite an expensive technique compared to other options. Sometimes I just use for example CNC milling, injection molding or vacuum forming.  If I can realize it with a different technology which is more efficient for a certain end result, I opt for that. 3D printing needs to serve its goal. I don’t want to use a technique for the sake of it.

To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?

I’ve been able to create a full-size 3D printed soft seats with all functionalities.

On a more artistic level, I developed in collaboration with Dutch designer Roos Meerman, Dynamorphosis. This is a series of 3 objects mimicking bodily processes: respiration, peristaltic movements and lactation which was conducted by the Bio Art and Design Award in 2016. It was a very big challenge to create non-static objects with 3D printing. We experimented in a very playful way with unconventional materials like fabrics, latex, and soluble substances. Through this open and experimental approach, we found new solutions and materials for 4D effects with a 3D printing technique. 

Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?

It is not a funny moment but for me a very honorable moment. In 2017, the curator of the Centre Pompidou in Paris approached me about the acquisition of Shapes of Sweden. This 3D printed car seating concept for Volvo was selected in the first place for the exhibition ‘Mutations-crátions- Imprimer le monde’ displaying 3D pioneers. Besides, the object was acquired by their private collection. This was a very special moment.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?


Yes, for sure. It’s a technical world with (unfortunately) still a majority of men. I’m quite experienced in 3D modeling, material knowledge and the technique itself. Sometimes in conversations men start to explain very basic details without any technical jargon as if they need to explain the whole technology from scratch. This bothers me sometimes, to be honest.

In 2015 I was one of the speakers at one of the biggest software seminars in the world, COFES, in Phoenix Arizona. I was one of the very few women attending the seminar. Before my talk, I noticed that my knowledge was questioned by the men I spoke with. I can only guess for its reason. Fortunately, after my presentation, this turned 180 degrees and more balanced conversations started to occur.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about? 

My latest project Radiolaria #1 might travel to the Centre of Biomimicry in the US (the founders of biomimicry) and be part of the Centre.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I think these are two different questions for me. The most impressive isn’t the most impactful I think. I am convinced that 3D printing should add something. We should use 3D printing because it’s the best technique to use for a certain purpose. I think in the medical world 3D printing is very impactful. With 3D printing, you can recreate extreme complex unique body parts. For example for organ transplants it will be revolutionary I think.

But the computational architecture of Michael Hansmeyer is extremely impressive to see. I love it.

What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?

As previously mentioned its added value is especially relevant for the medical industry. On a more consumer level, it’s game-changing in the way that we can very precisely replicate complex natural structures and processes. Very relevant for innovating production methods in the field of design and architecture. Bridging nature and technology is the solution to a lot of issues we are dealing with, I believe.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

    • As a designer?

It enables me to replicate nature.

    • As a woman?

Nothing different than for a man.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

People are thinking about having their own ‘home’ printers in the future, but I hope it wouldn’t evolve in that way. At least not in such way as it is now sometimes presented: just print everything at home. I think this can have a downside. It could work well if it would be promoted as a tool to fix or replace compartments of certain devices or products. For example, my coffee machine is not working, instead of sending it back to the factory, the factory sends me a technical drawing and I can print the compartment at home.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

I am not sure if women feel held back by using 3D printing. I just notice as soon you go to software and technology seminars it seems to be a men’s world. That’s why these platforms are good: to show the presence of women in a world that is associated with men.

Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? My computer with all it’s software.

Favorite moment in your day job? Getting inspiration out of nature.

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Making a step in the replacement of inefficient production techniques.

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