Ross Stevens
Senior lecturer, Victoria University School of Design

Industrial designer Ross Stevens has some cool friends. He used to work with Philippe Starck in Paris, designing televisions, and Weta Workshop founder Richard Taylor is an old mate. In his current job he gets to work with the designers of the future - the students at Victoria University's School of Design.

Businesses are able to hire the students for specific projects, on the proviso that the client relinquishes control. The reason for this, explains Stevens, is that otherwise the client will only get answers to questions they already know. The whole point of harnessing the students' creativity is to get them to ask questions that wouldn't have occurred to the client in the first place. So far, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Methven, Nike and Vodafone have used the service.

Stevens is the first to admit that many futuristic projects can appear to have "a lot of bullshit factor". Some ideas the students come up with can be quite outlandish. But we shouldn't sneer, he says: "the present is a lot stranger than I think we believe".

One project considered the possibility of flooding particular rooms in a house, to create an indoor swimming pool. Or integrating a capillary-type water system into a building's walls that would enable you to attach a tap wherever you wanted.

For Methven, one student came up with an idea for a tap or showerhead that could be made from memory metals, already used by surgeons, enabling it to be moulded to whatever shape and flow that person wanted.

Another idea was for Methven to focus on water, rather than tapware, including a system to which various health-enhancing solutions could be added. Interestingly, Methven now produces a shower that adds vitamin C to water.

Stevens is keen to get involved in a biology project involving nanotechnology - the super-sexy field of technology so tiny that it is on an atomic and molecular scale. But what really gets him excited is the rapidly developing field of 3D printing, which enables concepts developed on a computer to be instantly created at the push of a button.

Companies such as Nike can already produce an entire prototype shoe - complete with laces - without having to bring together component parts. There are even 3D printers these days that can produce biological material, and come up with original designs. One student developed a concept - entirely hypothetical at this stage - for WiFi implants for your hair, created on a 3D printer.

Stevens personally believes that 3D printing is going to turn manufacturing on its head - which could eventually be bad news for countries such as China.

Within 10 to 15 years, he guesses, we will be able to go to bureaus to get stuff made, or perhaps even have 3D printers in our homes. It's even possible 3D printers will eventually become the ultimate recycling tool - able to disassemble and reassemble products at our whim.

"It's really trippy stuff, but if you think about it, it's the way nature makes things, and that's why I like it," he muses.

"Nature doesn't order the parts from China and then put them together."

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