Like many others who love to create, one of my heroes is Adam Savage — Mythbuster, science communicator, movie prop collector, and maker.

In one of the many hours I had spent absorbing his philosophies and skills watching Youtube videos, he said something that put into words a concept that had taken me many years to learn by experience. What he said was something along the lines of, “Every object in the world was created from simpler objects using simple manipulations.”

In other words, no matter how complex an object appears to be, it can be deconstructed into a few basic materials and a series of simple operations. Take my bed frame for example: it is an object that has both form, function and some level of complexity (it comes apart in four pieces). And yet it is composed almost entirely of a straight piece of steel, and it was made using only three operations: cutting, welding, and grinding. To be sure, my bed frame is far from being the most complex thing we humans have ever made, but the point is, everything out there was once something much more simple than what it became.

Let’s call this concept construction by deconstruction:




Learning this concept unlocked the world of making and engineering to me, since the existence of everything in our world was no longer a mystery. Everything was merely a simple object made complex using simple manipulations performed by somebody no different from you or me. This meant that the ability to land somebody on the moon, or build the Hoover dam was in my hands as well. Quite liberating and valuable for a young engineer.

Recently though, I’ve been feeling a little conflicted because we’ve seen a pretty significant proliferation of technologies that skip the whole process of turning simple things into complex ones. Those technologies, of course are related to additive manufacturing — 3D printing — where instead of turning, say, a sheet of plywood into a chair, you just, print the chair; 3D printing will eventually no longer force us to take a moment to consider how to deconstruct our ideas.


Here’s why I’m conflicted:

I’m young enough to know that additive manufacturing will become the major player in shaping our future, and I want to embrace it. However, I was raised on and learned to love the older, more analog process of making. Part of me is afraid that by skipping the process of construction by deconstruction, the world of design and engineering will become so mysterious that it will scare people away. On the other hand, maybe the complicated technology will simply work in the background while we have a user interface so simple that anybody and their grandma will be able to realize their ideas. Making is such a wonderful way to explore our curiosities, and I hope it will never become any less than what it is now.

I’m curious to know how you think 3D printing will affect engineering and idea creation. Post in the comments below!