Friday, February 25, 2011

Top design studios meet to explore new ways to engage smart materials industry

How do you connect designers with UK technologies and materials in a meaningful way that helps deliver opportunities for commercialisation? The convergence of technologies combined with the blurring of the disciplines of the creative industries is resulting in design having a greater impact on materials. You can see this in the various projects that design consultancies are engaging in – no longer just designing hardware, but creating strategies and telling stories, designers are entering chemistry- and engineering territories to develop materials themselves. If you need proof, take a look at Time magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2010 from last year (as reported in a previous posting) in which, remarkably, designers – and British designers to boot – were the inventors of all three material inventions on the shortlist. But the creative industries are also hugely important as innovation drivers in helping translate technology into applications with wide appeal. In this aspect designers become story-tellers who can bridge the gap between science and technical data into something with a tangible impact on products.

Read the full report here

Also, be sure to take a look at these five recommendations for how smart materials can connect with the creative industries

Friday, November 12, 2010

Find us on Twitter

We are now on Twitter, be sure to subscribe for our latest material finds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can designers drive technological innovation?

A sheet of graphene folded up and reassembled
Image courtesy of the Royal Society of Chemistry

It can be difficult to come up with applications for materials. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics for their discovery of a new material called ‘graphene’. A sheet of this remarkable material is only one atom thick, yet it’s extremely strong, transparent, as well as electrically- and thermally conductive.

Although we know all these things about the wonderful properties of graphene, so far no one has come up with any applications for the material, and based on prior Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs it may take some time before anybody does so. This is to do with a whole range of issues, such as the cost of the material and the tools and technology needed to process it, but it’s also because the human perspective is missing. We know that graphene is incredibly strong and has great potential as a conductive material, but how can that be translated into useful products?

A neodymium magnet structure from Neocube

Sometimes designers can help drive this process. Take rare earth magnets – these exceptional materials are used in everything from hard-drives to lasers, but you have most likely encountered these magnets in the form of the vibrator inside your mobile phone. Just half a penny’s worth of neodymium makes you aware that your phone is ringing when you can’t hear the signal, forming a direct connection between this obscure material and the human tactile sense.

I have started a project with the UK Technology Strategy Board's Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network to try and get designers to connect with these new materials. If you would like to read about this area or have new materials that need a home or are a designer who wants to connect with new smart materials you can read my regular blogs on the Creative Industries KTN website

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Inventables marketplace

If you haven’t heard of Inventables before, you’re in for a treat – this Chicago-based company is dedicated to connecting material manufacturers and suppliers with designers, having amassed an impressive collection of materials and technologies up for grabs on their website.

The fully searchable database is free to use and materials are categorized according to potential applications and keywords ranging from sensorial qualities, such as smoothness, texture and transparency, to functional properties like flexibility, conductivity and weight.

Selecting a material brings up detailed information about its properties, possible uses and a contact form to put you in touch with the manufacturer. In the spirit of Web 2.0, there is also a list of suggested materials to take your research further and you can leave feedback and suggestions for other users.

To give it a try for yourself, visit

Sugru launch

We’ve written about sugru before, but just to recap in case you missed that, sugru is something so unusual as a new material, invented and commercialised by a designer, with a little help from the materials science community. London-based designer Jane ní Dhulchaointigh describes her invention as ‘a kind of permanent, updated version of blue tack’ that can be used to repair, ‘hack’ or create new products altogether.

Sugru was launched at the beginning of December last year and the 2000 packs that the team had prepared sold out in just a few hours! Rumour has it that another batch will be up for sale in February, so be sure to head over to the online shop to get your hands on some of this durable and tactile silicone material.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

100% Materials 2009

For the sixth year running, Chris Lefteri Design curated the 100% Materials installation at 100% Design in London. Between 24 -27 September, visitors could browse the large collection of material samples on display, participate in workshops and pick up a copy of the latest issue of Ingredients.

The workshop programme included a session with London-based shoe- and product designer Marloes ten Bhömer. Marloes brought samples from the various stages of the making of her amazing rotationalmouldedshoe, giving visitors an insight into the fascinating creative process that led her to apply rotational moulding – a process that is usually associated with large-scale, bloated shapes like litter bins, toys and traffic cones – to shoe design.

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh’s demonstration of sugru™, a new silicone-based material, was another highlight. Perhaps best described as a kind of ‘permanent blue tack’, sugru™ can be shaped by hand and left to cure at room temperature, forming a durable and tactile material that can be used to create new products or for customising existing ones, which was the theme for Jane’s workshop. Ultimately, Jane’s vision for sugru™ is that the material will be used to ‘hack’ and improve broken or unwanted products in situations where users would typically buy new ones. If the turnout and sheer enthusiasm of the workshop attendees is anything to go by, this may well come true.

ASM's /Mtrl database

ASM International, an American trade association dedicated to materials science, engineering and industrial design, have been rolling out their new website in the last couple of months. It specifically targets designers that are looking for information about materials and finishes, offering a comprehensive materials database with a wealth of information, images and links to manufacturers, suppliers and other resources.

Chris Lefteri Design supplied much of the content for the database, which currently consists of some 250 records from across the material spectrum. New materials are scheduled to be added on a regular basis, so keep an eye open for the latest updates.

The /Mtrl database is fairly unique in that it lets users browse for materials based on things like brand values and sensorial qualities in addition to a rigorous set of technical data, processing information and environmental issues. To try it out for yourself, please visit the database.