Material innovation from a sustainable perspective is relevant and much needed. New materials form the basis of our modern computing world, and hence research into these materials and material science is of vital importance.

Material Diversity

The Mendeleev Periodic Table shows 118 elements, from which millions of different materials can be made. Hence, a real playground and experimentation lab for researchers and artists in search of ‘real world’ applications.

Every material has its own characteristics and matching this with the design or application desires provides challenges. For a  starter, we have a variety of categories, like; biomaterials, ceramics, composites, concrete, optical fibres (graphene), glass, metals, wood, semiconductors, metals and nanomaterials. Thus, operating on a Nanoscale, molecule level or with a DNA perspective.

Additionally, there is a wide spread of differentiators, ranging from the level on the flexibility, the solidness or the softness, smoothness, detail level and colour. Furthermore, we talk about smart materials. Materials that get triggered and react to outside factors as temperature, electricity or magnetism. There is already ongoing research on self-healing materials, chromism and programmed materials (shape material memory/4D printing). This Singularity Hub article takes you on a journey of new wild future materials.

Lastly, the economic factor should be considered: the availability of the material, but also the sustainability and eco-footprint. Hence, a complex grid with options and decisions to make. What new combinations will give the right characteristics for the imagined application?

And then we don’t even touch upon questions relating to the preservation and reactions over time. Will it degrade? Or transform? And to what extend is it interactive?

New Material Award

Well, it’s time to play. Artists try to answers these questions with their experiments and test; their material innovations. This is being acknowledged by the Dutch New Material Award from Stichting DOEN, Fonds Kwadraat en Het Nieuwe Instituut.

On Thursday March 23rd, HNI held a talk with the nominees for the New Material Award 2018. In this Heard@ we will give a reflection on the topic and highlight the insights from the design dialogues.

The nominated artists all have developed new materials or technologies to enhance material use. They showed entrepreneurial skills and above all inventiveness to solve their own challenges. It varies from investigating the physical/ digital interface with 3D printing to contributing to the zero waste movement and closing the circular economy. Most where inspired and led by how nature is functioning (biomimicry). All investigated the quality of the material.

Heleen Klopper was inspired by the Repair Manifesto of Platform 21. It opposes the ‘throwaway culture’ and celebrates repair as the new recycling. She wanted an easy to use method, that could profit from the DIY culture and in this way contribute both to reducing waste, upcycling of material as engaging the audience with art and design. Het motto became #fixingthefuture. Her solution had to battle with the passage of time. She wanted fabrics to live longer and therefore invented Woolfiller. A solution to deal with holes, using a needle felting approach. Next to that it is easy to use, cheap (€17,50) and she empowered the user to pick up the craft. It was a continuous experiment to improve the fabric, but eventually it resulted in longer liveability and more value.

Jo Meesters is also passionate about enduring the lifespan of a product, accumulating in an ideal world with a self-sustaining society. To achieve this, he is focused on reconstructing particles and reusing waste (materials). He has a project based approach to research the material and distilled various waste streams. It is a process of trial and error, continuously showing the challenges of the material. To be able to experiment, and finding out what works and what doesn’t, he created his own TEST Lab.

The ongoing search for innovation in materials and techniques is the major drive of the design studio, which is considered a laboratory for product concepts. A laboratory focused on the research of new ways of material handling and the exploration of the boundaries of the intersection of craftsmanship and mass production techniques.

His ongoing research is now focussing on the BITE project, where you can grow your own meal or have it integrated with eatable tableware.

Bastiaan de Nennie want’s to incorporate the possibility for mass production and upscaling from the start. He already has six 3D printers in his studio, which he can license out and thus opening up for others to use. He can scan anything.  But what is really inspirational, is his approach to his studio. He calls it the phycital plant. A place for digital/ physical explorations, where the real- and virtual world can be remixed. He uses the computer as a prosthetic to create new combinations. He wants to achieve real materiality for digitally born objects using natural and mechanical insight. The advantage of the digital environment, is that it is easy to connect, multiply, stretch and combine materials. But how to unleash this to the real world? How to give it a real ecosystem. An important implication is that the material has its own specificities. Why do we accept and even value the imperfections of wood and do not allow this for bio-plastics?

Lilian van Daal is focused on bio engineering and biomimicry. She imitates and replicates complex structures from nature. She researches in-depth what happens with one single material in nature and analyses this on the stiffness, softness, flexibility. This gives her an overview of how to localize the best material, for e.g. an ergonomic design challenge. She is currently working on an online database to share the insights of structures from nature linked to their various characteristics. This empowers other designers, artists, developers, but also producers to embrace such an approach.

Together with a whole team of different professions, we are setting up an open source structure library. With this library we can inspire others to work with structures from nature and in this way we can serve the industry with applying solutions out of nature to accomplish sustainable innovation.

The structures from nature can then be transformed in 3D printed objects from a sustainable source. In Scandinavia she used pine raisin, but here in the Netherlands she is searching for an alternative, since she wants it to be locally produced to diminished the footprint and contribute to a circular economy with limited transportation costs. She is searching for the boundaries of 3D printing and wants to create movement and kinetic objects. Often she collaborates with scientists to achieve this.

Business models

All four artists demonstrated a strong research inclined practice, which show potential for various application scenarios. Knowledge on the materials will allow us to make every day comparison and application scenarios.

However, all struggle with the scalability and showed their struggles with the business development of their ‘artistic prototypes’. Some are in need of a ‘co-founder’, a business partner, who could have the factory running. Others search for entrepreneurial skills or a diversification of their revenue model. When looking at the practice of these artists, several options are available:the most straightforward is direct sales of products/ services

  • a way to secure income is a (public) commission. This could either be geared towards running the studio, that will cover the costs or towards allocating budget for a new experiment
  • often we see that artists turn to a subsidy or fund. There are many possibilities of which most known is het Mondriaan fonds, but there are many more.
  • a micro-credit or crowdfunding scheme is a possibility to pre-invest. Artist can apply for an interest free rent at Fonds Kwadraat or make use of the crowdsource platform voordekunst.
  • When specific hardware or software is developed, one could work with a licence or royalties .
  • Many also developed workshop formats, which could be sold as a service but also with a ‘consulting’ fee model. Furthermore, this is a great opportunity to work on customer relationship.
  • Lastly, one can also apply for awards and residencies. The next edition of the New Material Award is open until April 27th, 2018 to apply for.

The trick is to find which revenue streams fit your business model, artistic aspiration and scalability potential of your organization. This is part of one of the building block essentials in creating a solid foundation for professional growth. This is a topic we encounter regularly with our artists and tackle within our Incubation program or through one-on-one partnering.