Recently I borrowed a collection of coral and shells from a friend and spent an evening at the Steel House scanning them on our 3d scanner. After downloading some free software online, I was then able to take the scanned file and manipulate the shapes to create Frankenstein-ish forms. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty cool in a nerdy kind of way. It didn't take long for me to realize that no matter how hard I tried to alter the patterns and surfaces, these objects could not be improved or made more beautiful. I was reminded of the work of two of my favorite scientists, D'arcy Wentworth Thompson, who wrote On Growth and Form http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%27Arcy_Wentworth_Thompson and Ernst Haeckel, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Haekel. Thompson and Haeckel combined science, math and art as their lens into the natural world. Their curiosity led to thousands of beautiful illustrations and explanations for shapes that occur in the natural world. In the end, I deleted the digital alterations that I made on the screen and marveled at the surface patterns on the shell. I did make a 3d print of the shell, because, well - it's just kind of cool. Scanning a 3d object, potentially altering the form on a screen, then printing that out is not something I ever thought I'd do even five years ago.
I continue to be amazed by the technologies that are becoming more accessible to both designers and individuals interested in making things. There is no replacement, however, for the human experience of seeing, touching, smelling and listening. Swiping screens with our fingers and moving a virtual object with a mouse will never be as satisfying as a true interaction with the world and people we live with. For as much as I enjoy having our 3d printer/scanner and fancy computers in the studio, I'd take a night of good conversation with my studio mates over a computer-generated file any day.