Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN19 Proceedings
Publication year: 2019
Pages: 6092-6101
ISBN: 978-84-09-12031-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2019.1470
Conference name: 11th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 1-3 July, 2019
Location: Palma, Spain
Learning by doing is an effective way to teach to design students and enables educators to provide them a durable knowledge about materials. Students can appreciate both technical and sensorial properties of materials by experimentation and direct experience with them [1,2]. This way of learning is essential for designers to exploit with awareness the potentials and the limits of materials. For designing with materials, is not only compulsory to know notions about their technical properties: even the sensory criteria and aesthetic properties are essential information to produce an aware design [3]. In this perspective, the presented workshop focuses on introducing the class of smart materials to the students, in order to facilitate a material replacement activity in some product design icons.

Smart Materials are a peculiar category of materials characterized by a “non-intuitive” behaviour when submitted to the action of a certain chemical-physical stimulus [4,5]. Those particular properties allow them to “react” in a replicable and reversible way to different environmental phenomena. In fact, when a certain input is given (such as heat, UV Radiation, physical deformation…), smart materials answer with a specific output (color changing, light emission…). The use of those materials allows designers to imagine new kinds of interaction between users and products: the responsive behaviour of smart materials is very effective when designing products is oriented to emphasize the user experience.

Before starting the workshop, it was asked to students to identify the most iconic design product in their own opinion and to analyse them by enlighten some information such as the designer, the year of production but also the materials and the production technologies used. After the collection of the so-called “products that designers love”, different families of smart materials have been introduced to the students in a theoretical lesson, presenting them their main behaviours and technical properties. In a second step, samples were made available to the class in order to allow students to appreciate the theoretical lesson in an experimental and experiencing way. Once students felt familiar with smart materials, the class was divided in groups of three/four students and some specific families were assigned to each group. An in-depth research activity on the assigned smart materials family was then asked to learn about the type, duration of the phenomenon, the applications and the feedback that the material shows.

At the end of the theoretical, practical and research activity, students have all the necessary information to start designing with smart materials [6]. By selecting one of the iconic design products presented in the first step, it was asked to each group to improve the product, or a part of it, by suggesting a smart material replacement. This smart materials integration aims to increase the user experience with the product, allowing the material to become an interface to give directions, suggest actions, surprise the user and increase interaction with the product.

This paper presents the results obtained from the workshop activity. The aim of this study is allowing students to have a hand-on appropriation of smart materials characteristics and properties but also to let them understand that designing starting from the materials does not lead only to technical performance improvements, but it can act directly on the user-product interaction.
Smart Materials, Workshop, Learning by Doing, Experiencial Learning, Design.