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

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