Affordances as Materials Potential: What Design Can Do for Materials Development
Bahareh Barati, Elvin Karana


Given the growing interest in “upstream” collaborative projects between designers and materials scientists, it is crucial to scrutinize designers’ creative contribution to materials development beyond “coming up with” application ideas. Overcoming this outdated preconception requires a shift away from the dominant perspective of cognitive psychology that understands creativity as being in the designer’s mind, to an understanding of it as being distributed between the designer and the material world. Creativity as such requires designers’ active participation in “discovering” the novel potentials of materials rather than merely translating the “given” materials information to product applications. In this paper we propose the Materials Potential Framework to liberate materials from the stigma of a purely solutionist approach (e.g., materials selection and application potential), and open up the possibility to approach materials generatively, for all they have to offer (i.e., materials potential). To that aim, our paper explores existing notions in the discussions of materials potential, namely form, function, and experience as materials potential, and provides a conceptualization beyond the evident merits of product applications. The conceptualization of “affordances as material potentials” shifts the focus to designers’ skillful acts of making and fabricating as ways of unlocking novel affordances of conventional and emerging materials.

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