Ben Talbot is a Bristol-based industrial designer in his late twenties. He started his own company, Fresh Design Works, six years ago and specialises in unique and innovative projects. He lives in an old manor house with a rich history, and also uses the space as his studio. Ben spoke to us about the future of 3D printing, his top-secret work and the enduring uses of Lego.
You use the Ad Hoc Guardian Scheme property you live in as a studio space for your company Fresh Design Works. What came first, the company or the space?
My company. I started freelancing six years ago, then in 2012 I was looking for a new home, and some dedicated studio space. Places that you can live AND work in are scarce or very expensive, and being a property guardian looked like it may offer the opportunity for a reasonable price.
Can you tell me about the space you are living in?
The short version is that it is an old manor house that used to be used by the local council as offices. I have researched the house and spoken to our friendly neighbours and dog walkers and the long version is that it dates back over 200 years and was once owned by a man named Hiatt Cowles Baker. He made his fortune travelling all over the world buying foreign fabrics to bring back to England.
On his travels he would also bring back two foreign plants to grow in our climate; one would be planted in the grounds of the house, and the other was donated to Kew Gardens in London.
After he died, he left the house to his family who eventually could no longer afford to maintain the house, so it was sold to the local council in the 1970s. Since being owned by the council, it has seen use as an elderly care home, and a day centre for adults with learning difficulties and special needs, before the council used it solely as offices at the turn of the century.
On the grounds there are many acres of ornamental gardens, a folly, indoor squash court, stables, and horticultural buildings. There is a lot of wildlife and we regularly see squirrels, rabbits, a fox family, badgers, field mice, plus many different species of insects including stag beetles, large (massive) house spiders, and hawk moths. Several people claim to have seen ghosts too.
How did Fresh come to be?
I graduated at the peak of the recessihttp://www.adhoccreative.co.uk/wp-admin/ on, so there were very few design jobs around. I was also living in Derby at the time, which has very few product/industrial design consultancies around. Eventually I found some freelance work with a local furniture company, and have continued to freelance and develop the business.
What is the driving force behind your designs?
That’s a tough question. I couldn’t pick just one. For client commissioned work like the camera shelter on my website, it’s a real balancing act between the needs of the end user, environmental concerns and issues, the clients own requirements, and physical manufacturing constraints. I also work on my own personal projects in my spare time and in between projects for fun, to develop my skills, and add to my portfolio. I have a three-page long list of various ideas I am yet to work through and keep adding to; some are problems that I have noticed day-to-day, and some are just fun ideas where I want to see what would happen and if I could make it work, like my Desk Warfare products and plywood bike.
In my work, I find that if you fully understand the problem, the answer often presents itself. Each project is like a series of small puzzles to figure out.
Who and what are you inspired by in your designs?
I think I take inspiration from the most mundane everyday things that people take for granted. Particularly things that don’t work and could be better; I’m always fixings things and looking for ways to make something better. I have often been told that I think of the things nobody else would. Being very resourceful, I often use what’s around me and easily available then let the object or material inspire me. It helps that I’m kind of a hoarder, in that I hate throwing away to landfill anything that still has any use – even if I don’t quite know what I’m going to do with it yet.
Plus, the usual taking things apart and putting them back together (with varying success) and playing with Lego Technic has really helped me understand how things work. I still do these things, and occasionally use Lego, as it’s a great prototyping tool for basic mechanisms. Being able to fix things also helps prevent problems and save lots of money on garage bills.
What is your best creation to date?
Again, it’s difficult to pick just one; it’s like asking a parent to choose which is their favourite child. Due to the nature of my work, there are a lot of projects I can’t discuss publicly to protect any intellectual property rights. The timescale of many projects also means that some of my best work that I did early in my career still hasn’t quite made it to market for reasons such as financing or sourcing. So the things I really want to talk about, I can’t as I am sworn to secrecy.
Of the things I can talk about, I guess the plywood furniture on my website. It is CNC cut very economically from plywood, and assembles by hand without screws, nails, or glue. I have been working on getting this to market in my spare time, have been through prototyping, and am currently in the process of sourcing the right manufacturer.
There are lot’s of smaller half a day projects that I really love, and often post them on my tumblr blog on my website and twitter.
You also do 3D printing – what do you see as the future for 3D printing?
3D printing is a hotly debated and very misunderstood piece of technology. What a lot of people don’t realise is that it has been around for over thirty years, but it’s only recently that it has become cheap enough to reach the consumer.
Right now, its most popular use is in the production of one-off bespoke components, such as prototypes, and also short run batches. I don’t think that will change any time soon until the cost comes down. Compared to traditional mass manufacturing processes, it is vastly slower and more expensive.
Where consumers are concerned, I think it will remain within the realm of the hobbyist as far as designing things, and owning/running the machines are concerned, just because of the technical knowledge required. However, there is a growing market for 3D printed jewellery and other such objects online – expect to pay a premium though, especially for items that aren’t plastic.
Within industry, there is already work into 3D printing tissue for organs, skin grafts, and reconstructive tissue. Plus 3D printed prosthetics have been around a while, are already cheaper than traditional hand-made prosthetics, and are only getting cheaper. Lots of high performance parts for things like race-cars and the new Bloodhound land speed record vehicle are also 3D printed. All this is carried out on machines that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions.
There is definitely a global push towards a machine that could 3D print an entire product made of different materials and complete with electronics all in one go. There is a printer in development that prints simple plastic products with a basic circuitry.
Housing too! A Chinese company have already printed houses for a fraction of the cost and time of traditional house building. They look just as good too.
The only limit to 3D-printing at the moment is technology and cost. There are some big companies working on some very big ideas.
You mentioned that you share a studio with another guardian who builds drones. Do you think the scheme allows people to pursue projects they might not be able to?
As long as you play by the guardian rules, absolutely! Financially, if I wasn’t a guardian, I wouldn’t be able to afford to rent a home and a work space, so it has definitely enabled me to pursue my career and develop my business.
Realistically though it depends on the individual, what they do, and the building.
When my company is more successful and I can afford to buy or lease my own live/work unit I definitely will. There are a lot of things I can’t do here that would really help my business that I could do if I owned my own place. But for now, so early in my career, while I have few responsibilities, it’s ideal.
See Ben’s work at www.FreshDW.uk and follow him on twitter at @FreshDW_