The transmutation of the characteristics and properties of one material to another is one of the most fertile aspects of contemporaneity: from elements in porcelain stoneware that simulate wood to resins that look like concrete. But what do materials comm
Do materials have their own expressive-sensory dimension?
The expressive-sensory dimension of materials is a subjective evaluation of the qualities that define the material and its surface and can make all the difference to a design project. By material qualities we mean those characteristics that influence the way in which we are able to perceive a material, collecting, in other words, sensory information such as its texture and tactile qualities like the fact that it is warm or cold, heavy or light; its visual qualities like transparency, translucence and the shininess of its surface. The material qualities that make up the expressive-sensory dimension can be inherent to a given material but they can, and at times, have to be, designed. During my doctorate I developed a tool called Atlante aimed precisely at facilitating the evaluation of the expressive-sensory dimension on the part of students and design professionals.
Where does the term “Materials Experience” come from? What does it mean?
Material is a medium. In fact it communicates ideas, beliefs and approaches; it forces us to think, feel and act in certain ways; facilitates and improves functionality and use. The concept of Material Experience coined by Elvin Karana (TU Delft) and successfully developed with my contribution by Owain Pedgley (METU University) and by Elisa Giaccardi (TU Delft), underlines this role of protagonist in design that is recognised today by materials, both from a technical point of view and an experiential one. The concept of Materials Experience arises from the broader idea of 'product' experience that highlights how the relationship between user and product and that is mediated by four levels of experience: sensory / aesthetic, emotional, meaning, and performance. Like all frameworks, this one has the advantages and the limitations of simplifying complex dynamics. Something that is certainly important is the perspective that allows us to think of our relationship with objects as an experience in progress. Materials are one of the most important elements in influencing our overall experience of an object. Materials, in fact, have the potential to promote meaningful experiences through the definition of what we perceive, feel, think and also what we do. We have defined Materials Experience as the experiences that people have with and through a product’s materials. Materials Experience can also be broken down into different aspects, each aimed at the description of a specific sphere of our interaction with materials.
What is the aesthetic experience of a material?
The aesthetic experience, originating from perception, is that which involves sensory data: heat, sound, weight and so on. The experience of meaning, or rather what the material represents to us and in what world of significance it takes us. Emotional experience linked to how a certain material makes us feel and what it provokes within us and to conclude, the experience of the performance, or rather how a material influences our behaviour and our actions towards it and towards the object in which it is incorporated.
Valentina Rognoli is a Researcher at the Department of Design and lecturer at the School of Design, Milan Polytechnic, where she co-founded and co-directs the Materials Experience Lab, a research group that operates at the crossover between product design, science of materials, social sciences and engineering with a transdisciplinary approach
Page 109 and above: materials tinkering with micelio, Master thesis in Product Design by S. Parisi, 2015 Left: Pinearex, Master thesis in Product Design for Innovation by S. D Panico, 2017 Right: Never too Lat(t) by Dicle Aslan, Dinullah Ibrahim, Shao Yizhuo and Unal Betul, 2016/2017