Materials development: an alternative career pathway for design graduates

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Prescribing materials for manufacturing a designed object has always been part of the industrial designer’s palette of skills and knowledge areas. While the typical approach would be for designers to specify commercially available materials during the product development process, the development of novel raw materials, particularly “sustainable” ones, has become another avenue of activity for industrial design graduates in recent decades. The strong link in materials innovation that exists between industrial design practitioners and materials development technologists is confirmed by the emergence of various organizations and resource centers dedicated to this pursuit, such as the Materials and Design Exchange and Material ConneXion. Many “designerly” books and magazines have also recently surfaced to inform and inspire product creators on material-intensive manufacturing innovations. A couple of international competitions have also been organized to challenge design professionals and students to creatively fashion consumer goods from innovative or sustainable materials. This paper catalogues various educational activities in some universities around the world, where industrial design students have been actively engaged in the exploration of new material resources that could be considered for product development. Cases include undergraduate design projects on prototyping experimental materials and product proposals from those materials; a highly successful partnership of design graduates who invented an organic binding and insulation material while working in a university incubation centre; and an interdisciplinary master’s degree in design and engineering with a materials specialization. Furthermore, the material development work done by industrial design practitioners in design workshops and research laboratories are also reported on, and this supports the proposition that working on new sustainable materials can provide an alternative career path for graduates of industrial design degree programs.
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Ramirez, Mariano Jr
Wechsler, Andrea
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