Jonathan Rowley Digits2Widgets
It did not take TCT and Personalize very long to realise that as we followed our print-out map from the station, the drilling and hammering sounds that started as background noise were getting louder and louder.
We greeted Jonathan Rowley, Design Director of Digits2Widgets, in a sunny residential area of Camden. He was standing on the pavement opposite a building that was undergoing a fairly serious facelift - his new 3D printing headquarters.
Digits2Widgets is currently based on Wimpole Street in Westminster but this new space will allow the growing company to spread its wings and form a first-class base for 3D printing, which it is hoped will attract users and designers and form a community.
Rowley said that he was lucky to find the new location, as the process of commercial property hunting led him to Rochester Place, which is based in an area he revealed used to be the old design hub of London.
"It was a happy accident, relocating to this part of town. I've got a background in architecture and I understand the history of Camden as a design centre, so there's something quite nice about us being back in this area and drawing from the old world of design in London," he said.
Rowley explained that the owner was looking to sell the space for flats and Digits2Widgets was the first buyer to approach him to use the space for its original purpose.
The design professional took us through his new work digs, skirting round the team of builders and handymen hard at work. Rowley showed us where every 3D printer would be installed and every workbench carefully positioned, with electricity and lighting fixtures planned to complement each workstation. There will be a reception at the front, leading to two large spaces and a small outdoor enclave at the back. Rowley has certainly given himself a lot to play with - and his ambitions continue upstairs.
The first floor is set to be transformed into studios for design students, who Rowley hopes will act as CAD troubleshooters in exchange for free space to work.
"It's about talking and building a group of people that can all help out and feed off each other."
The big move is set for Saturday June 8th and Rowley is keen to make sure Digits2Widgets is seen as a class act by the 3D printing industry when the new office opens.
He insists he is not going to put on any displays that are run-of-the-mill or sub-standard.
"I don't want to show any crap plastic and tell people it's great when it's not," Rowley insisted.
Distinguished from the bureau
Rowley's background in architecture, as well as his work concerning both the dental and medical side of 3D printing has given him a firm footing in the industry and the professional is keen to promote the best of what the technology has to offer by engaging the user community.
"What we do is try to distinguish ourselves from other companies," he stated.
"We want people to come to us and not other bureaus because we provide a different service to a different category of customers than others like us. We meet a different set of needs."
Rowley explained that in some instances, designers send their files to bureaus and pay the privilege to wait ten days for what is essentially "a dud".
"A bad first experience in anything is not good," Rowley stated. "We are keen to speak to our customers and understand their expectations. If they want their printed design to move, for example, or if they want it to do something unusual in some way then I want to understand that.
"That's really important and we hope that if we are friendly and helpful then if they have a good experience they will come back and work with us again and we have a good relationship."
But even though Rowley recognises there are bureaus tapping the same client base as Digits2Wigits, he insisted that as things stand the market is big enough for everybody and he is not jealously guarding every enquiry that comes his way.
"We might subcontract to somebody else from time to time for whatever reason, or when our workload would become unmanageable if we added to it," he admitted, but noted that in the event the customer could be a long-term client he will take steps to protect that business.
Not everybody is a 'maker'
Rowley is, after all, running a business and he has a better idea than most of where 3D printing is headed - and he does not necessarily believe the current message purported by the media that the technology will transform the populace into a gigantic maker community is the right one.
"It's a lovely idea that everybody has this creativity but it's going to take centuries for that to happen," he said.
He explained why by using his own analogy. "For years and years I used to wear a jumper that my gran knitted for me and it was falling apart. I loved it because she made it, but for 90 per cent of the population, they want something branded - not knitted by their gran.
"People tend not to have the self-confidence to wear what they love and it's the same with saying everybody wants to make - not everybody wants to make."
No sooner had our meeting with Rowley come to an end than another one began, with the Digits2Widgets boss immediately going to greet some designers looking to hotdesk at his new office. The expert never stops and, as a result, has become a prominent figure in the British 3D printing community. His opinions have made their way into prominent broadsheet articles in recent weeks about the rise and rise of 3D printing, while he has also made broadcast appearances, and TCT Magazine is looking forward to meeting Rowley again and seeing the new Digits2Widgets headquarters when it is up and running this summer.