Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Prototyping Materials Experience: Towards a Shared Understanding of Underdeveloped Smart Material Composites

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Prototyping Materials Experience: Towards a Shared Understanding of Underdeveloped Smart Material Composites

Article excerpt

Introduction

In product design, traditionally, material considerations come at the very end of the design process where designers often act as passive recipients of materials with no big influence on material properties. While this still defines the majority of design projects, over the last decade, we can observe an increasing number of projects in which product designers are involved for the collaborative development of new materials (e.g., the European projects Light.Touch.Matters and Solar-Design). These pioneering projects are particularly interesting for the design research community due to the early influence that design can have on materials properties (Bergström et al., 2010). The contribution of designers to such upstreamcollaborative projects may range from exploring and showcasing the design possibilities of the new materials, to bringing market considerations and consumer perspectives to materials research (Nathan et al., 2012). However, as the materials are far from being integrated in products due to being underdeveloped, i.e., certain aspects of them, including their structure, fabrication, properties, and behavior, are either unknown or undefined, thus, understanding them and exploring their potentials and boundaries can be a challenge for designers. Given that the materials information flows between the disciplines of materials science and design, the challenge is as much about how these new underdeveloped materials can and should be communicated to the designers.

In this paper we focus on the development of smart material composites, which are composite materials that tightly integrate sensing, actuation, communication, and computation (McEvoy & Correll, 2015). Due to their intrinsic physical properties and built-in control mechanisms, smart material composites are capable of sensing their environment and responding to it in a specific, predetermined manner (Addington & Schodek, 2005; Spillman, Sirkis, & Gardiner, 1996). Adaptability, memory, and multiple functionalities are among smart characteristics that these composites bring to numerous possible applications in aerospace, civil engineering, biomedicine, etc. (Kamila, 2013). More anchored to product design applications, smart material composites are envisioned to blur the existing boundaries between the physical form and digital content of products (e.g., Ishii, Lakatos, Bonanni, & Labrune, 2012) and dramatically change the experiences of future interactive products (McEvoy & Correll, 2015; Nijholt, Giusti, Minuto, & Marti, 2012). The emotive, expressive, and communicative aspects of smart materials have attracted many practitioners and researchers from the broad fields of interactive art, design, and human-computer interaction (HCI) to use these materials in creating tangible and organic user interfaces (e.g., Coelho & Zigelbaum, 2011; Wakita, Shibutani, & Tsuji, 2009), responsive architecture (e.g., Lumina by Chin Koi Khoo; Penumbra project led by Richard Blythe and Paul Minifie), and expressive and communicative wearables (e.g., Chromat Adrenaline Dress in partnership with Intel).

In the early stages of materials development, direct experiences of the underdeveloped smart material composite might be substituted with verbal, graphical and/or numerical descriptions, and representations, for practical or/and strategic reasons (cf. Davis, Shrobe, & Szolovits, 1993). Despite being commonly used for communicating materials between materials scientists and engineers (Miodownik, 2007), these representations take no account of materials experiential qualities (Ashby & Johnson, 2003; Karana, 2009; van Kesteren, 2008), and have little to offer about the aesthetic, expressive, and performative qualities of the novel smart materials (Vallgårda & Sokoler, 2010). In addition, researchers have argued that high-level descriptions and representations of a technology, or black-boxing, as a strategy for reducing technical complexities can have counter-effects on designers’ attention to and understanding of its distinctive properties (Sundström et al. …

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