Design Mindset for Smart Materials

September 25, 2019 htbadmin

Design Mindset for Smart Materials

Writer Roosa Hursti, Happy Textiles

The technological development keeps on picking up the pace at the same time as we as a nation are burning more fossil fuels than ever before. Unrenewable resources are running low as we keep on dumping them as disposable items, for example in a form of clothing. Never before in history have designers had so much space for innovation and so much responsibility in our society, both at the same time.

The global market for smart design – containing smart clothing, fashion & luxury and devices –  has been estimated to grow 30-40 % annually. Across the globe, answering to the local demand and even beyond of it, the textile industry has already been stretching its footprint to merge with technology for a while now, creating more demand for the technology to keep developing.

In the field of surface modification in textiles we now have physical, chemical and biological methods to improve and receive desired properties. The development varies from fibres that can repel insects to self-cleaning textiles that only need UV radiation for the cleaning process. In the industry of sensors and circuit technology, with a smart textile garment we could collect data detecting possible diseases from the body way before human evaluation, making the garment ultra-personalized and long lasting. When it comes to sustaining our planet and moving away from the fossil fuels, the research and results especially in biological processes offer us ground-breaking possibilities due to its biodegradable properties. These methods and material innovations allow us to change the way we see textiles just as an item or a garment into a valuable life partner. 

Neri Oxman is a designer and architect who has a PhD from MIT in design and computation and has worked as a director of the MIT’s Media Lab since 2010 (ELLE, Langmuir, 2019). She and her team are working with engineering and developing solutions with synthetic biology, transferring the way that biology and nature can work to fabrication technologies and even to buildings. Her pioneering work between computational and symbiosis has led to material discoveries and innovations that will change the industry from the way we design to industrial production. 

One of the biggest discoveries in her work with materials is with very abundant polymer in nature called chitin that is found in cell walls of fungi, crab shells and the wings of many insects just to mention a few. By turning chitin into chitosan in a process where the chitin is mixed with pectin (fibre found in fruits) and cellulose (from plants), a substance that can be either stiff or soft and 3D printed is created. This substance is also biodegradable and water soluble.

Chitin emerges in the wings of dragonflies for example

In order to achieve this kind of innovation and success in research as a designer, it takes ability to communicate across industries and different fields of specialization, and an endless amount of curiosity. In her TED talk (Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology / Neri Oxman, TED Talks, 29.10.2015) she explains how working with her team at the intersection of different fields of manufacturing, design, biology and engineering has become vital. 

Reaching for balanced symbiosis between these fields, just like in nature, designers can find a new access to tools that are only available by high level of communication across industries and desire to learn. Changing the mindset from assembling and focusing on particular functions of smaller particles, that the mass industry sometimes forces the designers to do, into a questioning the traditional and viewing design as a lively and biological form can open a whole new world of understanding. This way of communicating is also highly needed because when the world around us changes, we need to adapt and change with it.

“Here’s to new age of design, a new age of creation, that takes us from a nature-inspired design to a design-inspired nature, and that demands of us for the first time that we mother nature.” – Neri Oxman


TED. (2015, October 29). Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology | Neri Oxman | TED Talks. Retrieved September 25, 2019, from

Langmuir, M. (2019, August 9). NERI OXMAN HAS ALL THE ANSWER]. Retrieved September 25, 2019, from


Writer of the article:


Roosa Hursti is a passionate graduating student with national and international studies from Textile and Fashion Design to Smart Textiles and Textile Technologies. With previous experience from internship in Sweden with design aspect Roosa wants to gain knowledge on building the Textile industry together in Finland with Happy Textiles as an intern. Her energy and enthusiasm goes strongly towards the challenges of sustainability and material innovation inside the textile industry.



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