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Material Research – Aesthetic Proporties

In order to understand what mediation does to material properties Diffus Design arranged a range of test setup where different materials were exposed to a group of students at IT-University of Copenhagen, to participants in a workshop at the Turkish Design Association and to a group of students at Fashion and Innovation at Donghua University in Shanghai.

The materials consisted of two kits where each kit came in two different modes. One mode where the materials were introduced ‘raw’ and the other mode where the same materials were embedded in transparent silicone.


 Material Research Project

1. Mediated and non-mediated material properties

The students were divided into four groups with approximate 8 in each group. Every group had the task to discuss in detail the properties of each material and focus on haptic, structural, visual and auditive qualities rather that functional qualities and affordances. Each group had an empty formula where they were asked to write down the properties they felt could describe the different materials.

The aspect of mediation was brought to the attention of the students when they were put together with their partner group (Group 1a with group 1b and 2a with 2b). Here they should discuss what properties each material was given by the groups, and it became very clear how important the media (in this case silicone) is to any material appearance, but also how much of our knowledge is based on previous memory – more about that later.

One group who had ‘raw’ material gave dried leaves the following characteristics: Porous, fragile, structured, symmetric, organic, dead, skeleton – the same leaves casked into silicone was characterized by another group: Nice, transparent, detailed, weaving patterned. Here the characteristics were in the first case very much connected to the experience of touching and handling the material where the latter was connected to seeing the material. In other cases like for instance salt the highlighted properties were very similar in all four groups with words like crunchy, edgy, raw and breakable. Only one group with ‘raw’ materials referred to the iron-like taste. See the tables on the following pages for a detailed view on how different the material properties were captured.  


The discussions the students had when they were brought together with their partner group were really enlightening and interesting. There were many childhood memories and bodily experiences that were told. Cake sprinkles and how they crush between your teeth and how you preserved flowers and plants in old books in your childhood were among the comments. Grandmothers were mentioned several times. In fact the groups with mediated materials referred more often to the memory of the materials than the materials themselves. It seemed like the silicone casks were preserving memories.

José van Dijck points out in her book Mediated Memories in the Digital Age that “Memory and media have both been referred to metaphorically as reservoirs, holding our past experiences and knowledge for future use” (van Dijck p. 2). She further mentions that “Media and memories… are not separate entities – the first enhancing, corrupting, extending, replacing the second – but media invariably and inherently shape our personal memories, warranting the term “mediation””. (van Dijck p.16).

In this case the test with the students showed that the direct description of the properties were stronger in the case of ‘raw’ materials where the spoken of connection to memory were strongest in the case of ‘mediated’ materials. “Mediated memories are the activities and objects we produce and appropriate by means of media technologies, for creating and re-creating a sense of past, present, and future of ourselves in relation to others” (van Dijck p.21). This raises interesting issues about the relationship between media and memories, and documenting and forgetting. When the materials are casked into the silicone it becomes a preservation of eternal life as one of the groups said, but it also represent the forgotten properties that are lost in the preserving, mediating act.


2. Dynamic properties

With the language of properties fresh in mind, the students were asked to work with dynamic properties. They were given small samples with different material changing possibilities. Again there were four groups that each got one out of the four following changing possibilities: Color change, shape change, light pattern and movement.

In the following pages the characteristics the students gave the different dynamic properties are listed. We gave them a pre-printed circular scale with two sets of property suggestions (Smooth versus staccato and slow versus fast). The rest of the properties and the placement in the scale is the students work. With the exercise we tried to develop a vocabulary for describing changes in the material. 

The test with the dynamic properties were difficult to conduct. Firstly because the students had some trouble with distinguishing between static aesthetic properties and dynamic aesthetic properties. Secondly because even though we tried to work with dynamic properties that are useful and make sense in relation to many of our projects there were very specific circumstances with the chosen samples that might not be able to transform into a more general level. The students had a lot of fun and were exited about the dynamic and active samples, but focused much more on how the appearance of the samples were rather than how they changed. The exercise will probably gain from being repeated, and with project targeted dynamic properties it will help a great deal.

3. Interactive properties

In this test we wanted to investigate three different situations that was relevant to our project Light.Touch.Matters: Inviting interaction, playful interaction and rewarding interaction. We divided the test group into three different smaller groups and gave one of the interactive situations to each group and then let them discuss the following questions in relation to a generic interactive experience:

  • What is the transformation needed to obtain the specific interaction
  • How is the interaction
  • What is the feedback
  • What can technology add
  • What is the frame
  • How can we use material
  • What are the aesthetic values

We also planned to give them interaction bricks developed by Diffus in order to suggest different basic interactive elements. These bricks were ment to come into play after they discussed more in general at first.

4. Conclusion

We have done the first test before and therefore the outcome of this test was very nice and useful. The two other teste needs to be conducted again in order to know if we can gain from them. Dynamic and interactive properties are crucial to LTM and the closer we come to final products the easier it will be to test actual properties. Still the insight from the tests are useful in order to keep focusing on how to take care of and emphasize dynamic and interactive properties.

Design and concept: Hanne-Louise Johannesen and Michel Guglielmi