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.




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Inside ITERATE: Holly McSweeney on the Future of FemTech and Why Women’s Health is Not a Niche

The most recent thought to inspire our INSIDE ITERATE series comes from ITERATE’s Sales & Marketing Assistant Holly McSweeney who was eager to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on femtech: exploring its origin, why the sector matters to all and what we can do to fuel its growth. Holly shared her curiosity in this area…

The fact that the very term femtech itself was only conceived of a mere five years ago speaks volumes, both about the incredible work done by the earliest femtech startups and about the attention that this sector is long overdue.

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Celebrating 7 Years of ITERATE: Our Take on the Design Sprint

On the 21st of May 2021 ITERATE Design + Innovation turned 7. To mark this business milestone we set out to try something new. Drawing upon recent success trialling the design sprint concept for a Client project, we felt this milestone provided the perfect opportunity to involve the full team at ITERATE in another, bigger design sprint. So, to celebrate our 7 years designing disruptive products, our 7 team members (from design, electronics and marketing) took 7 hours to push the boundaries and see just what we could do. Our ambition was to develop a targeted, considered, purposeful concept by the end of our 7-hour sprint.

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Can I Patent My Idea? Exploring the Inventive Step

Patents are often top-of-mind when it comes to conversations about realising an idea. The entrepreneurs driving the idea, the designers working to bring it to life, and the investors funding the development, will all be thinking about – or at least considering – patentability. Many entrepreneurs reach out to share their concepts and ideas, many of which are genius, imaginative or needed. But not all are patentable. So, what does it take for an idea to have patent potential?

The answer: an inventive step.

What is the Inventive Step? And Why Does it Matter? 

One key aspect involved in a successful patent application is that the product or technology includes or delivers an inventive step. Given how vital this aspect of patentability is, we need to understand what exactly is this requirement and what counts as an inventive step. Many innovations that crop up across today’s R&D scene could easily be revered for their inventiveness, but here is where the concept of the inventive step becomes relevant. In the context of patentability, the inventive step refers specifically to the invention being ‘not obvious to a person skilled in the art’. Thus, for a product feature or technology to be granted patent protection, the novel aspect must be novel not just to anyone, but it must be not obvious to those who are skilled in the field or art in which the product exists.

It’s essential to fully consider this aspect of patentability. There are countless products that are genuinely clever, intuitive, imaginative – capable of delighting or compelling users; there are products that offer a much-needed, highly effective solution to a problem the end-consumer might be experiencing. This however, doesn’t automatically align with the patentability of the idea. For patent eligibility, the idea must be surprising or not obvious to someone with expertise in the sector, to a person ‘skilled in the art’. Understanding this precise requirement can help you think more critically about your invention, what it does, and where its usefulness or innovation really lies.

Often the ability to patent a product or design is seen as the ultimate validation and risk reduction which can spur an entrepreneur to pursue the idea on a commercial scale. This can be somewhat misleading though. When it comes to new product development, despite their publicity, patents are not the only option; if your design idea doesn’t fulfil the inventive step requirement, there are numerous other avenues to look down. In a recent interview with Design Registration Specialist, Michelle Ward we unearthed just how valuable and diverse a source of IP, Design Registration can be. Investor Christian Kumar also shared with us, that product iterations are another strategic way to gain market protection through the cultivation of brand loyalty. The point here is that just because an idea can’t be patented, doesn’t mean it won’t be a success.

Upon first impression, it may seem that this requirement for an inventive step can make it harder to patent a design, but importantly, the inventive step also plays a vital role in enabling innovation to take place and remain accessible. If the requirement of the inventive step didn’t exist, barriers to innovation could be far more frequent as even regular or obvious iterations and product developments might result in an infringement.

Global tip: in the UK and Europe this requirement is referred to as the inventive step, while in the US it is more commonly referred to as non-obviousness.

Who Can We Count as a Person Skilled in the Art? 

According to the Intellectual Property Office this so-called ‘skilled person’ is neither a Nobel Prize winner nor the lowest common denominator; they must be competent and capable but are unlikely to have an awareness of specific patents. This is expanded into a consideration of the skilled person’s creativity level: the IPO states that this person should have sufficient knowledge and skill to make ‘routine developments but not to exercise inventive ingenuity or think laterally’.

How is the Inventive Step Assessed? 

Understanding how the presence of an inventive step is assessed is a useful question, and the answer depends on where you are filing your patent application. The Intellectual Property Office (UK) assesses whether or not an inventive step is present with a focus on objectivity, evaluating whether objectively, the invention would have been obvious to a person skilled in the art. By distinction, the European Patent Office (EPO) is slightly more specific. The EPO evaluates whether or not an inventive step has been taken based on a problem-solution framework. This means exploring the core problem at which the product, invention or technology is aimed, and then analysing whether the proposed solution to the problem is an obvious solution or not. Of course, not every patent application or sector is the same and there are a number of factors that are considered in every case.

Final Thoughts

If you think there might be patent potential in your design idea it’s always worth consulting a patent attorney (ITERATE Design + Innovation has a network of connections across the IP services to help you start the conversation), but if you are in the initial stages of exploring an idea, then, assessing the wider sector and questioning whether your concept, technology, or design breaks new ground in terms of conventional wisdom, can help you understand whether there might be patent potential in your idea.

For more specific information on patents, visit:




Contact: 01291 408283

Securing Investment as a Start-Up: Interview with Christian Kumar, Part Two

Here, we continue our interview with Venture Capitalist Christian Kumar. Read part one here if you haven’t already. In the second half of our interview with Christian Kumar we delved deeper into the Board, the connections and the people needed to demonstrate to an investor that a start-up has the ability and the drive to scale and succeed.


We know that all of this cutting edge research is happening in Universities and research facilities across the globe, but like you say, if you don’t have the device to get that research and that technology into someone’s hands or into someone’s house, then they’re not going to feel that effect. That’s the part of the picture that doesn’t get the same publicity. We hear all the headlines about breakthroughs in research and new technologies that have massive potential, but there isn’t then that conduit to get it into people’s hands and houses. And that’s something that we’re really excited to work on, and I’m sure that’s similar for you as an investor?

Absolutely, and for us, it’s also not just about making the investment, it’s then about mentoring that Client, growing them through the different iterations of a business lifecycle. Because the founder of today is not the CEO of tomorrow – everyone has to play at their strengths. This is the hardest part, when you we’ve got a great talented founder, to break the news to him that unfortunately, you’re not the CEO, we have to bring someone in from outside to drive the long-term vision of the business. Read more

Securing Investment as a Start-Up: Interview with Christian Kumar, Part One

Through our work with numerous entrepreneurs and start-ups seeking to breathe life into new ideas and deliver disruptive products to market, at ITERATE Design + Innovation we’ve seen our fair share of intelligent concepts. We’ve also seen too many ideas left unrealised due to the challenge of securing financial investment and we’re on a mission to change this.

Funding for new product development is undoubtedly the biggest barrier encountered by Clients, which is why Gethin Roberts and Holly McSweeney from the ITERATE team recently set out to unmuddy the pathway to securing venture finance as a start-up. We interviewed investor, Christian Kumar who offered fresh insights and welcome optimism on the subject of successfully attracting investment. Our interview unveiled exciting synergies between the considerations that underpin new product development and the priorities of investors. It also resoundingly confirmed that the appetite to invest in new product development is certainly there. Christian’s core hope is that with more connection and communication, entrepreneurs can “embrace the fear and deal with the challenges” to secure investment.

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INSIDE ITERATE: New Materials Round Up with Matt Beamish

Our new materials round up has been devised in collaboration with Design Engineer, Matt Beamish; it features some of the most ground-breaking new materials we have either used, encountered or been inspired by recently. Huge strides are being taken to deliver new sustainable materials that don’t demand a compromise in the quality and finish consumers have come to expect. The result of this, is new materials that tackle the heart of the waste crisis with a combination of biochemistry and commercial awareness in order to present viable alternatives.

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The Business Case for Using Additive Parts as Your End-Product

Experimentation and exploration are the hallmarks of innovation. They’re also made more viable for businesses through additive manufacturing. 

Additive manufacturing has long been used and respected as a vital technology within research and development. In particular, 3D printing techniques help product designers validate their ideas through rapid prototyping; this makes it possible to iterate quickly and refine designs within a highly compressed timeline. But the benefits of additive manufacturing don’t end in the world of R&D. In fact, many of its advantages – think flexibility, agility, innovation – are the aspirations of most businesses. Beyond this, the layer by layer composition of additively manufactured parts offers far greater design freedom. The opportunity here? To completely transform the nature of what products can be created. Yet, despite the potential offered by additive as a manufacturing method, still a surprisingly small number of businesses have seized the opportunity to use additively manufactured parts as their end-product.

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Design Registrations: Interview with Michelle Ward, Part Two

Here, we continue our interview with Chartered Trade Mark Attorney Michelle Ward, founder of Indelible IP. Read part one if you haven’t already where we covered the scope of protection provided by a design registration. Michelle’s insights demonstrated that for a relatively low cost and straightforward application process, design registration can provide a lot of value. In part two of the interview our focus shifted to considering design registration from more of a commercial perspective.


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Design Registrations: Interview with Michelle Ward, Part One

Recently, Holly and Gethin from the ITERATE team sat down over Zoom to interview Michelle Ward. Michelle is a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney; she has more than 28 years’ experience advising brands on intellectual property. Michelle specialises in trade marks, copyright, design registrations and unregistered design rights and in 2016, founded Indelible IP. Michelle shared her wealth of knowledge on the value of design registrations within the wider IP landscape. She made a compelling case for raising the profile of design registration and explained how this particular design right can be used in clever ways to not only protect your design but also to enrich your brand.


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