In September 2008, fifty designers, scientists, educators and industrialists spent an afternoon of ‘philosophical fun with materials’ in the Royal College of Art workshops – casting pewter in cuttlefish, prototyping with sustainable cornboard, getting emotional with materials, witnessing the effect of temperature change and exploring microscopic structures.
The event was inspired by the 18th Century Lunar Society of Birmingham, whose monthly meetings combined technical experimentation, vigourous debate and sociable dining in equal measure.
Experiment leaders included Jakki Dehn (Kingston University), Zoe Laughlin and Martin Conreen (King’s College Materials Library), Sumeet Bellara (MaDE Resource Centre), Caroline Till and Ruth Sayers (MaDE Connections). Organisations taking part included Samsung, Nokia, the Olympic Delivery Authority, Imperial College London and Southampton University.
Comment on The Materials Experiments
You can read Hugh Aldersey-Williams’s Materials Experiments blog and below are comments from several of the participants.
The Materials Scientist
As a Materials Scientist with an engineering background it always surprises me how designers take the materials we work with and use them in such different ways. It was fascinating to see the thought processes when experimenters were presented with a familiar object made from familiar materials and asked to translate their sensory experiences into a pictorial response. For designers, the range of responses widens and broadens with time as one thought leads to another, where as for scientists the tendency is to narrow a problem down and focus in on specific elements of it.
Seeing people using different methods to express their sensory experiences was eye-opening, with responses ranging from custard smeared on the walls to neat little phrase written surprisingly succinctly given the experimenters were blindfolded The experiments provided me with an opportunity to see the design thought process first hand. I just wish there had been more time for us to visit the other experiments and have a go ourselves.
Ruth Sayers, Imperial College London
The Sustainable Designer
Over the last 15 years I have built up a physical sustainable materials library which now houses over 1200 samples many of which are made from 100% recycled waste. Currently based within the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture at Kingston University, these materials are often at an early stage of production and their creative potential is not fully realised.
In the spirit of this investigation the delegates were asked to create a product within fifteen minutes from BioViron cornstarch packaging, a flat or corrugated sheet material that dissolves in water at the end of its’ life with no detrimental impact upon the environment.
You could feel the professional determination in the air as everyone started making the most wonderful products. From historian to lecturer, visual arts officer to materials librarian, when given a material to manipulate, their creativity was instantaneous. Working incredibly carefully at many different scales, they produced a wide range of products from a shelter, chairs and a bed, to fully working lights, clothes, jewellery, mobile phone covers and shoes.
The results of this experiment were: Good company + accessible material = innovative beauty + much laughter.
Jakki Dehn, Reader, Product and Furniture Design, Kingston University.
The Design Academic
I feel the personal/physical engagement with materials and the crafts – either advanced smart materials or ordinary materials with fascinating sensory features – is so exciting that passion flows over your body and inspiration sparks out of your brain. There seems to be much territory of senses other than our vision to be explored, as when we are blindfolded, we feel a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in describing things/materials, yet also a sort challenge and fun. The microscopic observation of materials not just brings us the visual images of enlarged things, but also expands the scale and scope of our thinking. Anyway, fantastic and exciting event!
The Industry Designer
If only every Friday could be like this!