‘Material’ has been a central point of research and practice agendas for decades in design. In the field of art, Focillon (1934) and Dewey (1980) emphasized the unique role of ‘material engagement’ in one’s process of thinking and reflecting. Material engagement in craft is a means to logically think, learn and understand through sensing and immediate experience of materials (Ingold, 2013; Nimkulrat, 2012; Adamson 2007). Through such practical inquiries one can understand the relationship between material, process and form (Niedderer, 2012).
In HCI, tinkering is an important part of interaction design processes concerned with crafting interactive artifacts that blend physical and digital materials (Zimmerman et al. 2007; Löwgren & Stolterman 2004; Buxton 2007; Holmquist 2012; Sundström et al., 2010). Tinkering with materials is a way of bringing material considerations early into the design process (Giaccardi & Candy 2009). It also has motivated designers to seek an expanded vocabulary to speak of the ways in which digital and physical materials come into relation (Wiberg 2013), describe computational properties (Vallgårda and Sokoler, 2010), and elicit unique expressions through digital materials (Bergström et al., 2011; Isbister & Höök, 2007; Löwgren, 2006; Tsaknaki et al., 2014).
When it comes to product design, many designers in the history of design have explored and engaged the diverse texture and finishing possibilities of materials, alongside phenomenological considerations on the merits of using particular materials for particular products (Manzini, 1986; Ashby & Johnson, 2002; Karana et al., 2014). Today we still see such an approach in some pioneer product design work: see for example the works of Tokujin Yoshioka (paper, glass), Piet Hein Eek (scrap wood), Paulo Ulian (marble), and Alberto Meda (carbon-fibre composites).
Over the last decade, we observe an ever-increasing interest in creating and designing with new materials (Karana et al., 2016; Rognoli et al., 2015; Wilkes et al., 2015). Suzanne Lee uses microbial cellulose composed of millions of tiny bacteria to produce clothing in her bathtub (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVW-jSdhILs); Carol Colette, in “This is Alive” (2013) (http://thisisalive.com), emphasizes that “A quiet revolution is happening”, and invites us to imagine a world in which plants grow product, and bacteria is genetically reprogrammed. Maurizio Montalti, in the “The Future of Plastics” exhibition (2014), shares his vision about future mycelium-based plastic materials (http://www.corpuscoli.com/projects/the-future-of-plastic/). Anna Vallgårda (2009) introduces the notion of ‘computational composites’, a new design space in which conventional materials (like wood) become more expressive and adaptable through computation. Without a doubt, the emergence of such new materials and approaches offers opportunity for achieving new material experiences. But as materials acquire new agency and interactional possibilities (whether algorithmic, biological or chemical), how do we work with such alive, active and adaptive materials? How do we mobilize the inherent properties of these materials in eliciting unique material experiences and ways of doing? And as materials acquire connectivity (whether digital or organic) and thus fluctuate within more fluid situations of use and needs, how do we understand the movements, temporalities and relationships of a material in relation to other materials?
This calls for different skill sets, different way of understanding and mobilizing materials in design. It also requires proper forecasting, envisioning, as well as new ways of resourcefully addressing variety and ongoing change through new forms of openness in the materiality and functionality of designs.
In EKSIG Alive. Active. Adaptive Conference, we are interested in the experiential knowledge of working with emerging materials that are alive, active and adaptive. It is an interdisciplinary conference that encompasses how such materials are understood, designed and how they act as a medium in the creation of unique material experiences (Karana et al., 2015; Giaccardi & Karana, 2015).
We welcome a broad engagement with the field by inviting submissions from a diverse range of researchers and practitioners whose work is centralized around the following themes:
- Designerly or artistic ways of understanding alive, active, adaptive materials
- Frameworks, approaches, tools and methods to support designing (with) alive, active and adaptive materials
- Interdisciplinary collaborations between different disciplines such as materials science and design in opening up new research spaces and design possibilities with alive, active and adaptive materials
- Explorations of future applications of alive, active and adaptive materials
- Critical views on the future of emerging materials and its implications for design research and practice
- Design research on and reflective accounts of experience and practice with alive, active and adaptive materials
- Implications of alive, active and adaptive materials on (materials) education in design or other creative disciplines
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Wilkes, S., Wongsriruksa, S., Howes, P., Gamester, R., Witchel, H., Conreen, M., Laughlin, Z. & Miodownik, M. (2016). Design tools for interdisciplinary translation of material experiences. Materials & Design, 90, 1228-1237.
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