Harnessing Material Innovation for a New Design Approach

Material quite literally makes our products. We design for materials, we manufacture materials, and we use and interact with materials in every part of everyday life. Materials form the fundamental substance of all things around us, but more than this, material choice influences things like our responses to the products in-the-hand, the lifetime and longevity of the products, the performance of the product – all of which translate into how we feel and how we act with the products we have. The materials used in the products designed now, will form the objects, items and things in our future and our reaction and actions towards them. Material is an integral choice in the product design journey and when it comes to material selection for a product, there is huge scope to establish a unique and future-focussed product identity.

Using New Materials to Future-proof Your Product Venture

Boosting product function by adding features is a strategy that is frequently revered. This can mean additional components are quick to be integrated or better performing components might be specified and sourced. This is often justified by the belief that the additional product performance benefit will deliver a return on whatever the increased unit cost might be. At the same time, new material exploration or investment is, by comparison, dismissed as a nice-to-have but non-essential.

Nonetheless, while focusing on components may seem the safer, obvious design decision, the properties of many new materials are providing a new approach to creating novel products, one that is more seamless. While extra features could be added and added – sometimes to the detriment of the product’s form and aesthetic – using the qualities of materials as a product USP is an interesting proposition. Material is needed in the product anyway and exploring performance through material can offer more elegant design solutions. Investing in new material opportunities like the incorporation of Graphene coating or the use of conductive thread excitingly brings technology into the product on a material level. Furthermore, as manufacturing with new materials becomes more financially viable, this shift to embracing innovative materials is set to accelerate. When selecting material for use within a new product, asking “will this choice keep my product relevant in a future of new materials”? can be thought-provoking. Knowledge of how you might create originality through material experimentation is one way to future-proof both the product and the business in a climate of material science and innovation and declining raw materials.

How to Explore and Select New Materials for Your Product Design 

Material properties stretch far beyond just tactile feel: manufacturability, function, price-point, expected lifetime and ease of environmental disposal are all aspects that could be positively or negatively influenced by material choice. Thus, material exploration is an opportunity that can be harnessed to design the best possible product, one with individual, considered characteristics. While the considerations listed above may all not be encapsulated yet in one material, the impressive breadth and ground-breaking properties of new materials is exciting interest from designers. With an awareness of the influence of material selection upon the end product, your chief priorities for the product can be balanced and driven forwards. Thinking more broadly than the individual product too, with a design already established, material exploration could help expand, re-invent, or modernise an existing product range. Equally materials could be intelligently used with continuity to shape a recognisable design language across an entire suite of products. Alternatively, product material could even be chosen by users creating a more involved product experience. There is such design potential in the way we use material.

The suitability of an array of versatile materials can be explored in the Foresight phase of a design project, or if material is absolute critical to the product’s viability, a Technical Feasibility work package could be undertaken in the first instance. From a design process perspective, investing in materials research, analysis, and evaluation early-on ensures the design that will be developed is optimal for the specified material. Beyond this, as developments in additive materials continue to improve the accuracy of mimic materials for prototyping, material selection can be carried out with even greater clarity and confidence.

Forget countless unnecessary product features, an openness to material exploration is an exciting and as yet, relatively untravelled, avenue for creating truly novel products. By harnessing the opportunities presented by material developments, new products can achieve distinction in performance, function, and experience as well as originality in the way they do this.


Email: gethin@iterate-uk.com

Email: holly@iterate-uk.com

Contact: 01291 408283

The Evolution of Sensor-Driven Technology

Sensors are electronic components and as their capabilities have advanced, these small components have completely redefined what physical products and devices can achieve. The evolution of sensor technology in recent years has radically increased the level of intelligence that can be built and engineered into products. This, in turn, has revolutionised numerous aspects of day-to-day life, making countless activities (from travel, to fitness, to turning on lights) not only easier but often safer and more efficient. Consumer and industrial audiences now readily await reports of the latest revelation in this field, eager to hear what new metric can be understood, monitored, quantified, and reported on. Beyond this, consumers are even more interested in what the product bringing this technology into their hands might look like. From detecting air quality to monitoring blood flow from outside the body, the variety of data that can be captured through products is constantly evolving. As sensor intelligence continues to develop, new product opportunities will arise.

Read more

Journey to Prototype: Bringing Technical Validation into Concept Development

To develop a product is to take an idea and turn it into something real and physical, something that can be seen, touched, and used. This ‘something’ could be tiny or large, simple or complex, it might even be lifesaving. Whatever the product, the process of transforming a thought into a tangible item is no easy feat. New product development is fundamentally challenging; this is why a product design consultancy develops a structured process to facilitate the development journey and reduce risk along the way. Each process may differ, but for the Client the pinnacle moment is reaching a prototype. Reaching a prototype is absolutely a key moment in the development journey. Nonetheless, the magnitude with which the prototype stage is revered can sometimes lead to opportunities in the earlier design stages being undervalued in a race to reach prototype. Often these are opportunities that can maximise the success of a prototype (and final product) and, in fact, can significantly save time and revisions in the later stages beyond the initial prototype.

The moment of reaching a prototype will always be a priority for the Client. Why are we so obsessed with the prototype stage? Why is this stage often afforded more value than any other? The answer is simple – it’s perceived as the first moment the Client gets to see their idea in reality. It offers validation; when with bated breath and healthy nervousness you unbox the prototype and get to see how your idea has translated into a real product. You can touch it. You can use it. You can interact with it. You can show it to people. The prototype gives a kind of ROI: you can now see in a physical form, the manifestation of all the ideas and conversations, the energy, time and investment. On a personal level, it’s a highly rewarding, even emotional moment. From a business perspective, reaching a prototype can be equally significant, it can be a key pre-requisite for further funding (potentially via crowdfunding or investment). It’s clear then that prototype is worth the hype.

But what is critical from a designer’s perspective, is that all of this validation can be seen in the earlier stages too. In reality, the prototype stage, the physical output, is an accumulation of all the design work that has come before it. Every idea, conversation, strategy, concept sketch, CAD detail, sourcing exercise, and in-house test contributes to the creation of a prototype (and obviously, the final product). It can be hard to see the value in these individual activities until you’re looking back over your journey with a prototype in your hands. However, recognising this value is essential. The work carried out in the early stages will determine the success of your product’s prototype. The quality and depth of design work carried out prior to prototyping is what will create that gasp of delight when you first unbox the prototype.

A key question evolves out of this, that question is, how can you ensure the prototype delivers on this expectation? By building technical feasibility into the early development phases.

Prototype may be the obvious moment when you are able to see and touch your idea, but there are numerous hands-on activities that come before this. As much as we love blue sky thinking, ideation and sketching, there’s more to concept development than visual exploration. There are strategic ways to bring technical validation into even the earliest stages of product development to make more evidence-based and informed design decisions that lead to a high-impact prototype and product.


The foresight stage includes the thorough research, sourcing, testing and evaluation of possible components to use within a product. This can be especially valuable when there are a number of technologies that could work withing your product. By sourcing and evaluating components for performance, price, size, power consumption, applicability given the intended use and more criteria, you are able to gain a solid understanding of the basis of your product right from the off.


Different product concepts can be designed with particular manufacturing processes in view. This capacity requires a product design consultancy with strong manufacturing knowledge but can allow you to quickly get to grips with what may or may not be feasible. This can push you to consider your design priorities, whether it be achieving a very specific form, or realising the product through the lowest-cost manufacturing route.

Development & Detail 

Carrying out FEA (Finite Element Analysis) of 3D CAD models greatly informs the prototype creation. FEA gives an indication of where forces are going to be applied to the design, allowing a designer to assess the integrity and quality of a design before ever utilising (and potentially wasting) materials to create a prototype.

Our Thoughts

The process of realising an idea is broken down into stages precisely because product development is difficult, but it’s important to recognise just how interrelated these stages are. The purpose of stages is to de-risk development step by step, though the development process is still an interconnected one. Don’t wait for the prototype phase for confirmation that your idea will deliver as you expect. Fluidity, and new levels of forward-thinking can be built into every design stage in order to validate decisions and give you confidence in the product as it’s being developed. Reframing the way you see value throughout the product development journey could help deliver the excitement of prototype in every single stage.

Email: gethin@iterate-uk.com

Email: holly@iterate-uk.com

Contact: 01291 408283

How We Are Accelerating Time-to-Market using 3D Printed Mould Tools

As Product Designers, we use 3D printing nearly every day to check fits, validate geometry and to experiment with mechanisms. The gap between 3D printing being a prototyping tool and a fully-fledged production method is closing. Regardless of these advancements there is always going to be a place for ‘traditional’ production methods such as injection moulding. The constraints involved with injection moulding are evident to anyone who has attempted to bring a product to market. Mould tools can cost in the thousands and take weeks if not months to be put into operation.

Read more

Industry 4.0 and its Implications on the Design Process

Industry 4.0 is the term that represents the next stage of automated manufacturing that includes cloud computing, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and advancements in other digital technologies. These developments have led to what is being called ‘Smart Factories’; factories in which all the machines, devices and sensors are able to communicate, share information and make simple decisions autonomously. This next phase of manufacturing will allow the process to become more reliable, more flexible, will reduce labour costs and improve productivity.

Read more