Today’s digital experiences rely heavily on user-interface elements. From buttons, cursors, and icons to scroll bars, sliders, and toggles, these carefully coded components allow you to click, drag, drop, load, and zoom your way to the digital world.
As a user-interface designer, Amelia Diggle is well-versed in improving the digital experience. Now, she’s bringing these digital experiences to life through Human Interface Jewellery, a New Zealand–based company that uses 3D printing to produce made-to-order jewelry inspired by user-interface elements. Diggle’s line includes fun and edgy pieces made of gold, silver, and titanium—cursor earrings, kinetic toggle rings to fiddle with, and kinetic scroll-bar necklaces you can scroll up or down to your heart’s content.
Human Interface Jewellery fuses three of Diggle’s passions. First is her love of jewelry. “Jewelry is something quite personal,” she says. “It can reflect your style and personality, or it can be sentimental and hold a lot of meaning. People always have stories about the things they wear.”
The company also intentionally celebrates of women in tech, providing a way to express themselves in a male-dominated industry. “It’s about giving women a symbol, like a badge of honor that says they belong in the tech industry, and there’s something made for them because they work in tech,” Diggle says.
Finally, Diggle created Human Interface Jewellery out of her passion for making—and breaking—things.
“While in university, I built a MakerBot 3D printer, one of the first open-source 3D printers,” Diggle says. “I really enjoyed trying to break it. I got it to do things it wasn’t meant to do, like printing items as thin as possible or manipulating it while it was printing. I wasn’t interested as much in the printer, but more in what you could push it to do.”
To build her jewelry line, Diggle integrates elements of the software design and development process into her own design and manufacturing. Much like software applications that release monthly updates or new features, Diggle has a backlog to choose from for the designs she releases each month. She uses the software prototyping model, with each design concept undergoing a sketch-and-test phase before prototyping and production.
“I share all my designs and sketches on social media and get feedback from people,” Diggle says. “If they don’t like it, I don’t make it. That’s what we do in the software industry; we create sketches and mock-ups and get them tested. We don’t code and build the whole application until we know that people want it and that it works. I’m trying to bring that into the jewelry business, as well.”
“VR is a way for people to see what the form and shape [of a product] feels like,” she says. “The idea is, you can play with the design in VR before buying it, and it could be a potential future business model. In the future, we might be trying on jewelry and clothes in VR and AR [augmented reality] before we buy them.”
To produce the delicate jewelry she designs, Diggle uses two 3D-printing methods: material jetting and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). She uses the more common material jetting for gold and silver pieces, printing them in wax that’s then cast in metal. DMLS handles titanium and some silver pieces and is especially suited for kinetic jewelry with gaps for movable parts.
“Direct metal laser sintering is amazing because the laser doesn’t fuse those little layers of metal powder together so long as there’s enough of a gap for the powder to get out,” Diggle says. “It can just skip a layer and retain that gap.”
Before starting production, Diggle had to find the perfect 3D-printing company to work with—not a simple task. “I contacted over 20 different 3D-printing companies all over the world,” she says. “A few of them rejected me straight away because I was [making] a lifestyle product, not a cool piece of engineering like a bike part or a car part. There was definitely a bit of prejudice there.”
Despite this challenge, Diggle persevered and found two companies that were the right fit. She’s currently working on some custom pieces, as well as a loading spinner ring and a volume-control slider necklace she hopes to release soon.
Human Interface Jewellery is still in its infancy, having only launched an online shop in March 2018, but Diggle is already looking ahead. “I’d love to incorporate lab-grown diamonds and other precious stones into my pieces to give them more bling,” she says.
The Internet of Things presents another avenue for growth into functional jewelry, similar to how an Apple Watch can automatically unlock a Mac computer.
“I’ve already done quite a lot of research into RFID, so I’m looking at incorporating that into a ring or some other piece of jewelry,” she says. “I need to do more research to find out how people really want to use it.
More than just another jewelry company, Human Interface Jewellery bridges the gap between humans and technology. The 3D-printed wearable pieces that Diggle designs and makes give people a way to connect with technology.
“I think what’s magical about 3D printing is we can produce things more locally,” she says. “Making something that anybody can buy and touch and feel might inspire them to think about how they can use technology. I want to create something so people can think more about it, connect with it, and be inspired by it.”