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Material Centric Design

With Chris Lefteri @ Workbench

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a talk by materials expert Chris Lefteri on the subject of Material Centric Design. It was informal, informative and thought provoking.

When designing new products, material concepts and properties can be overlooked through assumptions and conventional thinking.

The talk was an exploration based on starting with the material, rather than solving a design brief and then finding a material to use. Simple ideas such as looking at materials developed for one industry sector and applied in another can lead to the creative spark that ignites a whole creative boom. Who knew that increasing milk yields from dairy cows could revolutionise trainers?

It can be difficult to get your head around 'materials first', but exploring this concept has clearly solved problems that would not have been possible through the standard design first, material second process. ‘What can we do with this material’ rather than ‘what material best fits this solution’ opens up avenues of creativity and the cross-pollination of ideas.

We questioned what defines a ‘new material’, it is often an existing material used in a new application. From injection moulded leather, bark fabric, and trainers made from grapes, the audience was fascinated and stimulated, especially as we were able to handle examples.

We were joined by Rosie Dodd from The Carbon Trust who discussed the carbon challenges that we face when defining the environmental standards of materials and their circular economy statistics. With the focus shifting towards sustainability, Chris opened our eyes to the direction that materials are heading in terms of alternatives to fossil-based materials, and the fun ways students are looking at new solutions in the world of recycling. We looked at the aesthetics and the emotional response to sustainable materials, whether they need to be desired or ‘cool’ rather than being bought through a sense of ‘doing the right thing’, and how this impacts on the consumer.

The Q&A following the talk highlighted how thought provoking the subject of Material Centric Design can be, from shoe production to building construction, particularly when you can handle real world examples of how this theory has been applied by designers and industry. We look forward to welcoming Chris back.


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