While the Internet is a seemingly limitless resource when it comes to research or reference, sometimes it's nice to peruse the information in print. Short of actually including samples of ABS, flyknit, etc., Material ConneXion's new book series serves as a handy guide to what's new and what's next in materials for architects and designers (the samples, of course, are available at their materials libraries). Written with an audience of design students and professionals in mind, the first two volumes, on Architecture and Product Design, were published by Thames & Hudson just last week. (The latter, pictured above, includes a preface by our own Allan Chochinov.)
From cutting-edge technological advances to novel applications of tried-and-true methodologies, co-authors Andrew Dent, Ph.D, and Leslie Sherr present a well-curated selection of materials in an impressive series of highly visual, broadly informative compendia. According to the press release, the books also "include a Materials Directory that provides insight on additional materials that are part of the Material ConneXion library and that can be used as substitutes for the projects featured." We had a chance to speak to Dent on the occasion of the launch.
Core77: How did you determine which projects to include in this book? Did you make a conscious effort to include a diverse range of projects in each of the six sections?
Andrew Dent: Diversity was essential to demonstrate our thesis, that the material trends we see are independent of product type. The decision about which projects to feature was determined by a group at Material ConneXion along with my co-author Leslie Sherr. Though we looked at predominantly very recent projects, where an slightly older project could exemplify an arc in a material type's trajectory, it was included. Clear presentation of material innovation was essential, though it should not detract from the overall value of design.
The inclusion of Iron Man 2 body armor, in particular, points to noncommercial (or at least non-traditional) applications of new technologies, yet it also suggests a potential use case for 3D printing, while student projects, concepts and prototypes depict possibilities that may be years away from becoming a reality. As a resource and reference, do you have the sense that the Material Innovation series may shape the future of design (i.e. by introducing designers to new or alternative materials) as much as it documents it in the present?
Our hope is that the series opens designers' eyes to the value of material innovation and the range of material possibilities that exist beyond what they currently know (the "unknown unknowns"). We also hope that it can show how materials can jump product type, from say consumer electronics to automotive, or from sports equipment to home appliances. This cross-pollination gives designers greater freedom to design, and offers the potential to stretch existing beliefs about how a product should be.
Many of the technologies and innovations also lend themselves to video. Whereas in the not-so-distant past, a book might have included a CD-ROM, we now see QR codes in the margins. Did you consider incorporating multimedia into the book?
Yes, it would have been a great opportunity to provide linkable video and other information through something like a QR code. We are considering it for future books in the series.
The press release mentions that a volume on Packaging is slated for Spring 2015; can you share other disciplines you have in mind?
Packaging will be the third in a series. When we approached the idea of doing this series on Material Innovation, the intention was to cover ten different disciplines within design. The other seven are Interiors, Communication, Landscape, Transportation, Fashion and Jewelry, Art and Textile Design. Each book would assess, determine and present the material trends that we see in these disciplines with the end goal being a complete overview of material innovation in the creative field.
Do you have any prognostications about which materials or topics might be growth areas? In other words, what are you most excited about?
I am excited about the whole area of 'grown' materials, and our greater understanding of natural processes to produce materials that are working with nature to reduce waste, energy and resources. We have really only scratched the surface of this trend and I truly believe that as we understand these processes more, a whole new world of materials will emerge that are bio-based but engineered to be high-performing. I believe it also may affect our aesthetic appreciation, leading to a change in what we see as 'beautiful' or 'well designed.'
With a growing list of publications to its name, Material ConneXion is looking to launch an online bookstore in the near future. In the meantime, Material Innovation: Architecture and Material Innovation: Product Design are available now on Amazon
Bonus video: Andrew Dent, Vice President, Library & Materials Research, of Material Connexion participated in the Sustainability in 7 video series that we produced with Designers Accord in 2011: