Interview with Saad Alayyoubi, Founder of SaGa Design: “This industry is still in its infancy, but the road ahead looks incredibly exciting for all of us”

February 15, 2013 5 min read

Remember this incredible 3D printed Siri case for the iPhone? We asked Saad Alayyoubi, the designer behind it, to tell us a bit about his work and his company SaGa Design.


Novedge: Tell us about yourself and your company.

Saad Alayyoubi: I am a designer trained in architecture, and I’ve always been interested in creating inspiring work that crosses disciplinary boundaries. When I was a teenager I spent most of my days working on drawings and oil paintings, and ever since I can remember I have always had a passion for aesthetic beauty, both in the natural world and in our human artifacts and constructions.


After college I worked for several years as an architect for a large firm called KPF, where I was a member of project teams tasked with creating massive cultural centers, hotels and office skyscrapers. I enjoyed the work, but felt somewhat frustrated at the time that most of the key design decisions were made, understandably, by the experienced senior partners. Young designers, including myself, were mainly assigned to the technical execution of the partners’ vision, and would have to spend decades working our way up the corporate ladder before we had any real creative freedom.

At the time, 3D printing was still a relatively unknown technique used for prototyping architectural models, but all of us making these prototypes sensed that imminent change was on the horizon, as the technology continued to rapidly improve. I loved the creative expression the technology enabled, as I watched the intricate, digital architecture models I had created come to life in powder form inside the 3D printer. All the years I had spent honing my digital skills in college could now be translated outside the computer screen and into the physical world.

I waited for the day when commercial 3D printing would become viable as a means to create my own physical products: the technology had to both be capable of producing a high-quality material finish, and also relatively affordable for mass market consumption. As soon as I started to see this happening, I began experimenting with the various material offerings and formed my own studio, SaGa Design, dedicated to building beautiful 3D printed products and concepts. I have since expanded the scope of SaGa to include all artistic endeavors that I embark on, and it is now essentially a portal for the expression of all my thoughts and ideas. I would like to also create a blog someday soon associated with the website, to engage with other designers and thinkers on the problems and ideas of our time.


Novedge: What inspires you? 

Saad Alayyoubi:The sources are almost infinite. In terms of my worldview, a big part of my thinking was shaped by the writing and ideas of the late Carl Sagan. He was a brilliant scientist and philosopher, expert at articulating who we are as a species, and how we could begin to understand our place in the universe and the meaning of our existence.


In terms of artistic creativity my sources of inspiration continue to evolve every day, but in terms of classical art I have always been deeply inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, Frederick Church, and William Turner. In terms of more contemporary artists, there are so many it’s actually impossible to even condense the list to a reasonable format…The information age has really enabled us to recognize incredible artistic talent from all corners of the globe, and from people of all ages. I’ve seen astounding works of creative photography and digital art from kids as young as 16.


Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Saad Alayyoubi:I’m currently working for a multi-disciplinary design firm in midtown Manhattan, Experion Design Group, where I do everything from architectural renderings to website design and even user-interface design for mobile software apps. I spend most of my non-office hours continuing to expand my design portfolio of creative work, and most recently have been interested in improving my abilities as a digital matte-painter.


I start with a quick 15 minute sketch in Photoshop, to capture a certain mood using color and light. I then create a rough 3D model of the scene, to get an understanding of depth and some reflection layers which I can use to overlay on the base sketch. In the case of the project below, the 3D model also incorporated an idea for some floating architectural elements, which I scrapped in the final painting in favor of a pure landscape scene. I love working on dreamscapes such as this, creating an evocative scene from pure imagination; in my next few digital paintings I’ll be looking to implement more 3D elements that lend a more surreal, other-worldly atmosphere to the scene.



I am also still working on several new 3D-printing concepts, but many of these are still work in progress and will be revealed in the near future. I’m waiting for the next technological leap in the manufacturing process, when we can create 3D-printed objects at much larger scales (e.g., for use as furniture pieces) with multiple embedded materials and integrated electronics. These technological capabilities are inevitable, it’s only a matter of time, and I’m designing concepts now to pre-empt their arrival and try to envision how they can potentially be used to create physical objects that were never before possible.


Novedge: What software do you use?

Saad Alayyoubi:I use many of the same digital tools that other architects and designers of our generation use, including 3ds Max, Rhino, ZBrush, Sculptris and Photoshop. I really enjoyed experimenting with ZBrush on some of my iPhone case designs, and I will be looking to use it more extensively for future 3D work that involves highly organic, detailed and intricate forms. In terms of 3D printing materials, I really like the smooth, polished finish of glazed ceramics. To be quite honest, I’m eagerly awaiting the day when it will be viable for us individual designers to create entire, full-fledged 3D-printed custom body panels for cars and motorcycles. Many of the designs I’m working on at the moment are custom vehicle shells, and it will be amazing to one day have the material finish of such 3D prints rival the creations of the major exotic car manufacturers.


Novedge: What innovations do you see in your field, now or in the future?

Saad Alayyoubi:Besides some of the aforementioned ideas, I have been speaking with a lot of designers recently about where the technology might evolve in the near-term future. One of the ideas I am most excited about is the notion of complete democratization of physical products. It may be possible that 3d-printing will enable anyone to have almost any physical object they can imagine, irrespective of any notion of “price” beyond the pure commodity cost of the physical material. If 3D-scanning technology improves to enable flawless 3D capture of a physical object, and 3D printing simultaneously enables an almost exact replication of that object, imagine what the disruption this would cause the retail sector, and the idea of a "luxury product".


Besides this, I also have some friends working on 3D printing technology in the context of aerospace engineering, seeking, for example, to use 3D printing to enable the on-demand production of materials by a robotic rover on the moon or mars. This industry is still in its infancy, but the road ahead looks incredibly exciting for all of us.


Read more about Saad Alayyoubi and SaGa Design on his website and find his 3D printed designs on Shapeways.

And if you are interested in 3D printing, don't forget to read our interview with Chris Anderson.


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