2018 marks a new year in materials. Last year saw significant high-tech advances as super-materials such as graphene take one step closer to becoming a commercial reality and also meaningful explorations of craft in a contemporary context – Luzie Deubel's Tannin Coat made from paper waterproofed using an ancient Japanese technique as an alternative to plastic, for example.
Material development will continue to drive design innovation, creating compelling narratives that enable products to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Of course, sustainability lies at the heart of it all: the key question will not be Is it sustainable? but rather How is it sustainable?
In this article, the members of Chris Lefteri Design's team share their thoughts on which materials will have the biggest impact in the coming year.
Gaia Crippa: Rather than suggesting a specific material, I have a resource in mind. The most abundant resource on Earth is waste: unwanted, unusable entities or by-products. It is available everywhere, from landfills to ocean shores. In the last few years, designers and artists have begun to produce new raw materials from waste while companies have pioneered circular economy strategies by utilizing by-products from existing waste streams. For 2018 I see even more large material manufacturers adopting this approach for production on an industrial scale. The world is ready for it!
Sanghu Lee: Transparency in materials may exist on a functional level e.g. for looking outside or in, but can also be used to create unexpected outcomes. I would describe these as being 'between existing layers' where new visual effects can be achieved, such as by adjusting the level of transparency, layering colours over one another or even distortion through a transparent 3D form. It also brings a sense of playfulness when applied to materials that are usually opaque: transparent aluminium possesses the qualities of both metal and glass yet could offer further visual possibilities than either on its own.
Raw Color – Hue Boxes
Daniel Liden: I hope that 2018 will be the year when design with plastics will really break out of the confines of injection moulding. There are so many wonderful plastic materials out there that cannot be injection-moulded that I look forward to seeing used in more products, such as warm and beautifully translucent cellulose acetate, as well as composites like heavy and cold Corian in the playGo entertainment home hub, or thin and lightweight carbon fibre composites in the Jaguar I-PACE.
Jaime Tai: Living organisms will be integrated into our lives in increasingly complex and thoughtful ways, improving well-being while offering more sustainable choices in our consumption of resources. Recently, researchers have found a way of printing living cyanobacteria and circuitry onto paper - the resulting material can function as a solar panel, bio-battery or environmental sensor in the form of wallpaper. Surfaces like these could transform our homes and workplaces – what about microbial layers instead of antimicrobial ones? I'm excited to see what new biotech developments will be revealed this year.
Young Jin Ko: Consumer electronics are subject to various restrictions in material application while designs that are extremely slim and sleek are now more sought-after than ever. Materials in this industry need to be cost-effective, functional, human and environmentally friendly yet also have an emotionally endearing and premium visual appearance. Metal is a popular material that provides great performance in terms of protection, yet one of its greatest drawbacks is its weight. Microlattices on the other hand offer the opportunity to create products that are unibody in form from solid block metal yet exceptionally lightweight.
Mike Bond: Last year we saw consumers boycott prominent brands such as Lucozade and Pringles due to media coverage on the difficulties of recycling their packaging. Although sustainability has been a recurring theme, I believe increased access to and influence of social media will provoke businesses to develop sustainable packaging alternatives in 2018. Ooho, the biodegradable and edible packaging solution created by London start-up Skipping Rocks Lab is a great example of innovation in this area. Made from plants and seaweed, these bubbles were designed as an alternative to single-use bottles – I'm expecting to see more solutions like this materialise in the months ahead.
Bangzheng Tan: Advancements in material technology mean that our environments are likely to be filled with smart artificial materials. At the same time, consumers are seeking a deeper connection with nature to rest, relax and recharge one's senses. Organoid Decorative Coatings, for example, contain natural raw materials which provide a multi-sensory haptic and olfactory experience.
Recognized throughout the world as a leading authority on materials and their application in design, Chris Lefteri is one of the most important materials experts working in his field. For over a decade his studio work and publications have been pivotal in changing the way designers and the materials industry consider materials. In 2001 he published the first of eight books on materials and their application in design, which have been translated into six languages. These books have led the change in the way designers view and use materials. Subsequently his studio, Chris Lefteri Design, has worked with bluechip corporations and major design studios across Europe, the US and Asia implementing a broad range of strategies for effective materials integration in the design process.