Five Questions for Nitin Rao
Nitin Rao, along with Kaustuv DeBiswas, is co-founder of Sunglass, a cloud-based environment that aims to democratize design and provide an easy, user-friendly way to collaborate on 3D content. Launched in late May, Sunglass was selected as one of 6 finalists in the TechCrunch DISRUPT Battlefield (see the company's presentation here). We sit down with Rao to delve into the process behind Sunglass' creation and the future of digital design.
How did Sunglass begin?
We started Sunglass about a year ago with the mission to democratize access to design. We’re just going into open beta as our platform is opening up; the opportunity starts here. We know that designing physical objects around us is one of the greatest symbols of the productivity of mankind. But now we have to ask: How do we make better, greener, safer products? How do you get more brains on that problem? How do you make design tools themselves more accessible? To begin with, we found tools that cost thousands of dollars, slow down desktops, and hinder the common-man designer. In the words of (TED curator) Chris Anderson, “Everyone is a designer whether they know it or not.” We had tools that didn’t catch up—you needed a PHD before you could get started.
What will Sunglass do to change digital design?
Sunglass is a fresh take on what design tools can be; what software can be. It’s a web service—a completely browser-based environment where you can collaborate around the design of physical objects. You can have multiple collaborators working in the same 3D space designing a new motorbike, a chair, building, etc. It's completely compatible with over 45 different types of design software. Heavy analysis happens on the server, so you just have to worry about what you see on your web browser. 3D printers on the hardware side have brought the consumer into the design process to an extent. The software needs to catch up. The dream, ultimately, is to design anything with anybody on any device. The browser is all you have to worry about—the hardware and software issues are taken care of.
How do you think Sunglass could be applied to designing a modern home?
When you think about home design, everyone is a hired designer. My partner is an architect (I’m not a trained designer) – we have different backgrounds. Let’s say I want to hire an architect or designer to work on my house. I really don’t know what’s going on. The architect brings me blueprints but I don’t really have a say in what my own home looks like. Using Sunglass through the process from the start, you can really have a say in what your dream home looks like down to the smallest details. And you don’t have to be an expert or pay for software or training…you just have to use a browser.
The other side of it is if you want to use something like a 3D printer or design something neat at home, Sunglass can help you do it. You can design something like a type of jewelry ranging to a self-made surfboard design that you can then order online. Then also, you don’t have to rely on someone else like an expert if something breaks. Now you can simply see the design online, print with a 3D printer and have it there in the home. That could range from nuts and bolts to bigger things.
You have a clear vision of how Sunglass should work. Are you open to expanding on this idea in the future?
Definitely. The best cities are planned in a democratic way with multiple people having input into what they want—people who say “I want my city to have a coffee shop here. I want more greenery here.” I want this concept to be a part of buildings we work in, homes we live in, products we use.
What do you want people to take away from Sunglass?
Anyone can be a designer. Growing up, people enjoy designing and creating things. But as we get older we generally leave that ideology to experts. But in reality, no one knows what we want better than ourselves. Sunglass will give regular people the opportunity to be involved and shape the experiences around us like we’ve never been able to before. Everyone is a designer—now they have the chance to show it.
Also, I think what's really crucial is an emphasis on the consumer working with an architect through an entire design process to really have control over what he or she wants in a home. There really is mass consumer appeal here. Viewing 3D content anywhere across the web via a link from your architect should be an enthralling prospect for a lot of people. Nothing has to be set in stone until you say so, even in 3D.