Materials Experience

Valentina Rognoli, Researcher

I have been a researcher for the Design Department for almost two years, after having spent 8 years with the Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “Giulio Natta” Department of the Politecnico di Milano.

I have always been passionate about design and objects and was already curious about what is now defined “materials culture” when I was a child. Luckily, the year after my diploma, the Politecnico di Milano set up the “Laurea Programme in Industrial Design”, which has now become the School of Design. I continued to develop this curiosity during my years at University, thanks also to the opportunity of carrying out an internship in the studio of one of the most important Italian designers, Enzo Mari. This experience lasted a couple of years and allowed me to realise I have a propensity for design research and I began looking at the world of materials with growing interest.
Valentina Rognoli

I have therefore been carrying out research in the field of those materials and technologies which shape our daily lives for almost 20 years now, and my main focus is towards what I described as the “expressive-sensorial dimension” during the PhD programme. This line of research looks at design materials as instruments through which the project may be characterised from the points of view of perception, emotionality and language. Through the choice of the materials and of their transformation, the designer plans the artefact’s engineering and embodies a world of sensorial emotional references, defining the “materials experience”, that is the experience that the user carries out and which the designer is called upon to create by means of and thanks to the artefact’s materials.

The materials experiences which are currently emerging in the contemporary world concern two phenomena which have recently become established and which are continuing to develop: DIY Materials e ICS Materials.

The first phenomenon is that of DIY Materials, that is materials which are designed and self-produced by the designer. Designers have also become pro-active as concerns the current activity of the practice of making, the re-evaluation of craftsmanship (evolved craftsman), the fab lab development and the democratisation of implementing and producing artefacts such as the famous example of 3d printing, and there is an increasing number of case studies not just of self-produced artefacts, but also of materials. In fact, designers nowadays reveal the desire to once again take up the design process from its beginning, by personally creating the materials and the tools to work these, subsequently sharing the results of the various experiments. The principal features of these materials consist in having mainly been developed from “ingredients” which originate from the world of natural and animal resources, or from waste products of other processing. Research on DIY Materials has only just begun and at the moment more than 150 case studies of self-produced materials have been collected in order to describe this phenomenon. These case studies will allow improving the framework and definition of the situation.

The second phenomenon which influences our daily experience with materials is the continuous spread and development of interaction technologies. The necessity to interact and communicate with and through anything is also hitting materials, which are increasingly becoming Interactive, Connected and Smart.

ICS Materials in in fact the title of a recently begun research financed by the Department as a topic of interest for design research. To summarise, the quality of the interaction also depends on the materials used to achieve objects belonging to the Internet of Things or to smart design. The scientific community of Human Computer Interaction opens up towards design, and in particular towards design materials, in order to also recognise the role of materials in the dynamics of interaction and of creating the user experience. The research wishes to re-examine the concept of incorporation in more “materials” terms, studying the material qualities and properties capable of abetting new interaction and experience opportunities. The aim of the project is to create project guidelines with these materials which can be either the most modern or the most traditional ones. In addition, the purpose is to create an international network of researchers interested in the issue of materials in interaction design in order to continue the research also in European contexts.

Materials have always been a matter of interest for design research. What we are trying to do here at the Design Department is to continue both a theoretical and an experimental research on materials, able to promote a “materials culture”. In order to do so, we use an approach developed in collaboration with Professor Elvin Karana (TUDelft) called Materials Driven Design, which aims to highlight the fundamental role of the material in the design process, a role which can affect the entire development of the project. The materials driven approach promotes the materials culture and defines the branch of knowledge of design as indispensable for research in the current world of materials and technologies.


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Marita Canina,  Paola Checchi, Alberto Colorni, Annalinda De Rosa, Giulia Gerosa, Ilaria Mariani, Francesca Piredda, Lucia Rampino, Anne Schoonbrodt, Carlo Emilio Standoli, Lia Tagliavini