the power of materials…

It has been quite marvellous just how many excellent programmes have been on television recently about design and engineering, the context of design and the design process. And very interesting programmes too – we have had an excellent insight into the linking of psychology, design and the consumer with The Men Who Made Us Spend and last week saw the culmination of another great mini series on BBC 4 – Everyday Miracles – the genius of sofas, stockings and scanners, which looked at the links between design, designers, engineers and materials. Often materials we take for granted…


Of course, it seems rather a given that designers and engineers can only create real stuff within the realms of what exists to build it from, but this programme showed exactly how much of a difference material advances had on designers and engineers and subsequently, products, architecture and technology.

The invention of better quality steel has resulted in bridges that are more elegant, whilst the advancement of manufacturing processes has allowed designers to engineer and realise ever more delicate looking structures with incredible structural integrity.

As well as aesthetic alterations, the continued advancement of materials has created huge social changes too. The invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1888 by Dunlop (after advancements in rubber manufacture) allowed the hard rimmed bicycles to be updated, increasing their speed, manoeuvrability and essentially, rideability, opening up travel to women and allowing everyone to ride bikes for longer distances, faster. No longer was travel restricted to those within the upper classes.

Now, of course, it is material advancements that have allowed us to build lighter, faster bicycles for racing – a bike built for speed in anything other than carbon fibre is almost inconceivable. The invention of the material is so ideally suited to the cause that we tend to forget that it is a relatively new invention.

But this will always be the way. Every week there are new, advanced, experimental materials created which inevitably will become the standard for products and experiences of the future. Without the partnership between new products, designers and new materials we would never create anything truly groundbreaking. Research, discovery and application are all links in the design and engineering chain.

And just think – there are materials that are being created today that we don’t know what to do with. Yet. And that’s the really exciting part about it all…

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