The Importance of Materials

Last Thursday in Design and Technology we had a talk from Product Design's visiting lecturer, Rachael Sleight.

Rachael has a very inspirational approach to design where materials and timelessness are at the forefront of every project. It was by far my favourite talk of the D&T series! Her journey through her design career is truly something I aspire to.

The main point I took away from her talk was the importance of materials when it comes to designing any product. The skin is the biggest organ in the body and therefore it must be entertained when utilising any product. Rachael is a firm believer in not disguising or hiding the physical appearance of any material, they must be stripped back to reveal true finishes and textures. In a way, this is how materials are meant to be. By exposing the true material it almost makes man-made objects appear to be natural and raw. To me, anodising metal to cover the raw material is like coating your face in layers upon layers of makeup. There is no true function other than to hide away the purity of nature. If you feel like your material needs covering, don't use it! There's a whole world of different materials out there and there's always more than one suited to the job.

There's one obvious case where this design thinking has to be altered. "Engineering your own price point" was another topic that came up during Rachael's talk. Staying true to materials often comes with a much greater price. With many products, there's a compromise between quality and price. Nearly the entire flatpack furniture market uses veneer to disguise the cheap, light, manufactured board underneath. I feel that this, in the broader picture of affordable furniture is necessary. But what is Apple's excuse for covering up the polished metal used in their iPhones?

Researching material isn't as simple as opening a laptop and matching product requirements to databases. However, if you're a student under time pressure this tends to be the case. You need to get physical! You learn from collecting and working with materials. It's pretty difficult to get an idea of how texture by looking at an image on a monitor.

Tactility is important in creating emotional experiences and connections to places and objects. Probably the most important design discipline in creating textures in materials is interior design. From watching the Ils Crawford Abstract documentary on Netflix, interior designers try to create a total sensory experience. It’s not just about what we see, but what it feels like, how it smells, and even how it sounds. "Interior materials matter!"" What we see, touch, smell and hear transports us to a different place beyond the four walls. In retail, this experience is most evident in coffee shops where the textures, materials and smell create an escape from the city streets outside.

Connecting with the user on this sensory level often helps create emotional attachment. Think about your favourite/most comfortable piece of clothing, its probably been around for a while! Were you as attached to the garment when you first bought it?

When good use of materials is present in design it's very evident. Of course, there will be products that are restricted in their range of materials due to processing techniques, but surface finish is always something to keep in mind. The first point of contact between the user and product is nearly always visual followed by touch. How are you expected to create great design if either of these experiences are conventional in any way?