S. Bergamaschi, E. Lefebvre, S. Colombo, B. Del Curto

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
In recent years, the development of new technologies and new materials gave designers new inspirations and opportunities for their projects. In a previous study, (Bergamaschi et als) some correspondences between smart materials - or stimuli-responsive materials (SRMs), and dynamic products were found. SRMs are able to change properties according to external stimuli, and therefore are able to react to the environment with a fast, local, and adaptable response (Addington and Schodek, 2005).Meanwhile, dynamic products are a new category of artifacts that change their sensory features (i.e. their appearance) proactively and in a reversible manner over time (Colombo, 2014). These two categories can be integrated in order to create novel product experiences.

From an educational point of view, it is not always easy to transfer knowledge about new technologies to future designers, in a way that will allow them to get inspired for new projects.

This paper presents a design workshop involving 24 students at the first year of the Design & Engineering Master course at the Design School of Politecnico di Milano. The objective is to discuss how giving more knowledge about SRMs can help designers to create new product experiences. In particular, designers can explore the changes provided by materials themselves to surprise, create enjoyable interactions and inform users.

The educational experience described in this paper aimed to explore the user interaction with either a dishwasher or a washing machine. We divided students into 8 groups (made up of 3 students each) and we asked each group to analyze the user interaction with a real product (i.e. their own dishwasher or washing machine) focusing on the communicative intent. In this activity students were requested to focus on the data that the chosen product delivers to the users and to develop a concept design that take advantages of the sensory changes provided by SRMs, with the aim of implementing a more natural and pleasing interaction with the product.

During the launch of the design activity, two lectures were performed in order to give some insights about technical features of SRMs and to provide an introduction about sensory communication possible through dynamic products.

After the workshop, a questionnaire was delivered to students in order to investigate their opinion about the theme proposed in the exercise, the knowledge provided during the activity and the application about SRMs. The concepts that came out from this experience show that students are interested in designing dynamic products but have sometimes troubles to define the feasibility of their project. Most of them have already heard about SRMs but are still unfamiliar with their behaviors and their applications. Having more information about them can help students in the first step of ideation as well as to determine the technical feasibility of their project.