To start with, design is about more than just appearance – the decoration and visual appeal. It is about the knowledge of how to construct, develop and produce intelligent products. "Intelligent" meaning a combination of function, sensible production methods, sustainable material use and of course an attractive and useful interface. All these qualities are necessary to design good products. And designers who are at once observers, engineers and "poets" are well suited to lead the way.
Finally consumers know more and more about design and its importance to the overall quality of a product, and therefore increasingly demand products with good design.
As I see it, the development of industrial design is driven by criteria such as minimizing environmental impact, sustainability, the need for lightweight construction, reduction of components and the integration of functions. As experts in new materials and technologies for the development of innovative products, I and my colleagues work closely with international research institutes in our projects. By connecting scientific research and product design we are able to develop new strategies, concepts and products.
Technical innovation, cost and environmental issues are the main criteria when it comes to the properties and characteristics that are sought after. And as a consequence we are striving for materials that are thinner, lighter, biodegradable and more "intelligent" in terms of having integrated functionality.
This means materials that combine properties in the most efficient way; materials that can react to their surroundings and the environment by measuring and responding; materials whose characteristics can be transferred to, or transformed by various processes into, completely different materials. Such combinations are more an integration than a lamination. The reason for such materials are functionality, a reduction in the number of components needed (which means they require less assembly) and the integration of ergonomic needs. Examples include ceramic paper, wood foam, metal foam, ceramic foam, paper foam and metallized plastics (metal particles within the plastic) all of which combine the advantages of two or more materials into one new material.
Maximizing characteristics such as safety, resistance to strain and abrasion, flexibility and temperature resistance as well as minimizing weight, cost and density are some of the criteria which also play an important role in the development of materials. Materials with one or more of these "optimal" properties can open up new markets and provide a product with additional functionality.
Simultaneously new technologies enable faster processing, less waste and pollution and reduce the expense of machinery and tools. All of which increases flexibility and enables faster responses to rapid market changes and demands, quicker assembly of prototypes and even custom-made products being manufactured individually. In the rubber industry the trend is to use thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) because of their fantastic mechanical properties, such as shock absorbtion and above all their haptic feel and flexibility.
For me an interesting innovation is 2-, 3- and 4-component injection moulding, where hard and soft TPEs are moulded cohesively with each other. Using this technique hinges and other folding mechanisms can be integrated into a product in one process. TPEs have also enabled many safety and comfort applications to be realized.
Such developments also mean that materials that require large amounts of energy for production, transport and disposal become obsolete. When a product has a high-quality design consumers are less likely to accept the use of fake materials to reduce costs as they have a greater urge for authenticity and want to believe in what they hold in their hands in all respects. New processing methods, which enable ceramics to be welded and metal to be knitted, give designers and manufacturers a whole new range of options for the development and realization of products. Making it possible to think anew about the concepts of form, detail and expression of objects.
In the future, and this is not a fantasy but something you can already see developing if you look into laboratories and research institutes all over the world, biodegradable and intelligent biomimetic materials will replace less ecologically sound materials.
* Biomimetics: The study and development of synthetic systems that mimic the formation, function, or structure of biologically produced substances and materials and biological mechanisms and processes.
Nicola Stattmann is ...
... a product designer and consultant, specialising in conceptual design and product development based on material and processing technology.
She has taught at various schools across Europe. In 2004 she was a guest professor at Bauhaus University, Weimar, and currently she holds a guest professorship at the FHNW (Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz) in Switzerland. Prior to founding her own office in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2002 (amongst her customers are Degussa AG, Messe Frankfurt, Philips Lighting and Volkswagen AG) she worked as Manager of Materials Research at designafairs, Munich.
Nicola Stattmann is a co-organiser of the fair/conference "material_vision" in Frankfurt and the author of two books, including "Ultra light-super strong, a new generation of design materials" (published by Birkhäuser, 2003). www.nicolastattmann.com