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Materials for shape and function

News International-French

21 Feb 2011

The number of available materials and processing technologies keeps on growing, complicating the job of designing a finished product starting from raw materials. The need is now felt for specialists to help designers exploit the profusion of offers. Here is an interview with one of them, Chris Lefteri.



JEC Composites Magazine: How did you become a designer? Could you briefly describe your professional experience?

CHRIS LEFTERI: I studied industrial design at the Royal College of Art in London. But I have always been interested in the way that, through taking materials out of their established industries and applications, you can instantly change the way a product is perceived by the user. For example, the designer Daniel Weil, who was my professor at the RCA, designed a radio in a transparent plastic bag. It became an icon of 20th century design by replacing existing materials. This fascinated me and led me to want to explore this whole area much more, which I did by writing six books on different materials. After you write six books on a one subject, you unwittingly become something of a specialist in that area. My work is now centred on helping materials suppliers communicate the value of their products to designers in more effective ways and also helping design studios work more effectively with materials.


JCM: You try to put designers in touch with manufacturers or raw-material producers. What is the most difficult in this task?

C. L.: Yes, this is one of my company’s main areas of expertise and it’s one which I find the most rewarding. Designers are becoming much more strategically important in implementing new materials in projects. If a material producer has the vision and willingness to want to reach designers or architects, then it’s a very straightforward task for me to help the supplier reach the designer. It involves us understanding more about the supplier’s materials and looking at what aspects of that material would be interesting for designers.


More Information
Ingredients magazine is published every September by Chris Lefteri. It delivers content on materials for designers, including information on trends, new materials, themes and interviews with key people in the materials and design world. A limited edition run is available for distribution and a digital version is also available to download from Chris’s website.


JCM: The number of available materials is now enormous and there is no unified database. How do you deal with that?

C. L.: Yes, and the web has extended the information about these materials and, to a degree, made it harder for designers to deal with. This is because there is always the temptation for designers to look at the new technologies, without actually pushing the materials that they know about already. Most materials databases are filled with new materials but it’s not a lack of information that is the problem, but how you actually implement these materials. Commercial viability and translating the properties of materials into an application that is cost effective is one of the main problems. What my company does is work with both the materials suppliers and the designers by using various tools to help them find new ways to commercialise and implement materials.


JCM: What do you think about composite materials?

C. L.: I still think the term “composites” is misleading and still leads one to think only of expensive aerospace technologies, when there are so many emerging technologies that for example utilise natural plant fibres in various matrices. As a designer, it is one of the most exciting areas of new materials because in a very simple way, creating composites can allow designers to create new materials by combining sometimes very simple ingredients together in a new way.


JCM: How do you see the future of design in general and for composites in particular?

C. L.: The future of materials in design is going to be defined by many things; one in particular is materials that are transformed using the least amount of energy. I am always asked what I think the future of materials will be, and it’s a mixture of many themes such as nano- or bio-technologies. It is also clear that composites will be one of the major materials families in the future. This is largely due to the increasing sophistication of creating new materials from multiple sources and the need to bring waste materials like wood fibre together with virgin materials like plastics to enhance properties and reduce the amount of virgin materials being mined.


Caption: Exhibition design produced by Chris Lefteri Design for Forbo flooring