During the last decade the design field has been showing a growing interest in the possibility of improving scientific research with its products, by making use of multi-disciplinary integration methods and tools and scientific matrix-based criteria. Contemporary design aims to promote innovation and experimentation procedures, where design and science get closer to each other, melt and give birth to something new.

Design meets mathematics in the experimentations of digital technologies seen as expression forms, where the planning intervention involves the algorithm world through ways referred to as algorithmic design, generative design and computational design, whose connexions with digital manufacturing are tighter and tighter. Some examples of algorithmic design can be represented by the jewels and house accessories realized by Nervous System, which rediscover the computational aspect as a creative instrument capable of giving support to designers in their elaborations and reducing the time between concept and realization.

Codifying and constructing the algorithm, just like drawing, become creative actions, whose qualitative results depend more on designers’ project skills than on any other real or digital element. On the Nervous System Internet site, in the e-commerce section, the user is allowed to customize some jewels through a digital customization tool, by modifying the dimensional parameters of some jewels and purchase the co-projected product, realized with efficient systems the likes of rapid prototyping. By observing their products, the purpose appears clear: Nervous System aims to use digital technologies to turn into design the complexity of natural phenomena, procedures and patterns, as the ones characterizing the growth of natural structures.

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The collaborations between design and biology are particularly frequent, ranging from bionics to biomimetic design which confers on products strategies, tools and methods taken from biology, up to graphic elaboration experiences of biological procedures.

In Design4Science research and formation project, the communication design explains the Molecular Biology field, making reference to a wide range of resources, such as the data and research archive of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, Geis Archives of Howard Hughes Institute and David Goodsell and Scripps Research Institute. Design, in this case, rather than drawing inspiration from biological sciences, gives its support to science with visual works, photos, animations and digital images revealing concepts and procedures for scientists to decipher in an easier way and from different points of view.

The Diatom Design project, born out of the collaboration between Hybrid Design Lab [1] and the research team, specialized in electronic microscopics and marine biology with Mario De Stefano as coordinator, both coming from Seconda Università degli Studi of Naples, wants to investigate the relationship between design and biological sciences by means of two different ways: the bio-inspiration approach, leading to the design of innovative and sustainable products which transfer project strategies from the diatoms and the approach expecting design to act as a support for biology, thanks to its tools of modelization and interpretation of biological characters, such as structures and patterns, in order to better understand each motivation and biological-physical phenomenon laying at the base of such characters.

Design, chemistry and materials science share no doubt the strongest relationship in science field. Nevertheless, science knowledge and production technologies being in constant changing, such relationship reveals more and more complex and interesting collaborative scenarios, where the interaction between the two worlds is no more casual and desultory, but rather aware and constructive. New methodological dimensions are born, with the purpose of identifying common protocols of activity where to found an interdisciplinary and shared project procedure, meant to develop new concepts and design products, always proceeding by an eco-friendly and market-oriented innovation.

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In Hybrid Design Lab project experimentations, dialogue and cooperation between design and new materials [2] are ever present concepts, based on the definition and experimentation of new languages and modes of interaction and sharing among designers, scientists of materials and companies that intend to improve the design-material innovation in their productions.

To this purpose, a new “hybrid” and collaborative method, based on the integration of knowledge and meant to favour the outcoming of artistic cross-breeding and creative short circuits, has now been defined and experimented. Design, using its unique planning instruments for the creation of scenarios and the analysis of society-market evolution dynamics, try to interpret the materials provided by researchers under the guise of new concepts and products. At the same time, materials scientists, through interdisciplinary collaboration, finds new applications for its researches and suggests reasons and spurs for seeking new forms of design, by indicating the most advanced paths for science and technology development.

This method defines two possible approaches: the first one, shifting from materials to design (Materials→ Design), expects chemists and scientists of materials to suggest design innovations to be turned into products and applications, while in the second one design requires scientists of materials to find the most appropriate solutions for specific planning briefs (Design→Materials). A phase-structured procedure for both approaches has been defined and experimented.

The Materials→ Design approach proposes to “explain”, through design instruments, every technical and expressive opportunity offered by material and technology innovation. An interpretation leading to new concepts, products and service systems capable of exploiting their specific properties and identities. The identity of a material is the complexity of opportunities, limits and weaknesses distinguishing it, and have to be elaborated in order to conceive new applications where materials can reach their highest performance. “Identity features” involve environmental aspects; technical performance like durability, processability, mechanical and barrier properties; perceptive features like aspect, capability of emitting and reflecting light, colour and tactile properties.

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The most relevant phases characterizing this approach are:

1. Material selection: the materials science research team makes a selection and proposes a developed or developing material system considered as capable of producing new application fields.

2. Cognitive analysis: In this phase the researchers of the design team work in laboratories side by side with chemists and scientists of materials in order to acquire new information on determined factors such as experimental cycle, realization phases and procedures and technical, environmental and perceptive requirements. The different approaches and points of view by the teams allow both sides to draw inspiration and individuate potentialities which would not be so easily appreciated by working singularly and following the usual methods.

3. Identity of material definition: The two teams work together in order to draw up a report containing the identity features of the new material, according to the following categories of features: technical-functional , aesthetical , technological and procedural, environmental and perceptive.

4. Detection of opportunity areas and interpretation limits to be explained through new concepts.

5. Prefiguration of possible applicative scenarios and new consumption models on the basis of market and society evolution tendencies.

6. Proposal of new concepts interpreting, expressing and improving the identity of the new material.

7. Development of planning proposals.

8. Selection of the best planning proposal.

9. Project development, feasibility study, prototyping and possible patent.

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In the second approach (D→M) design, by utilizing new methodological and linguistic cooperation tools set up through many multidisciplinary collaborations, experiment the possibility to transfer and turn new design concepts into new requirements to be proposed to scientists of material, compliant with the modern need-based scenarios.

In this approach the methodology is developed by following these phases:

1. Drawing up of a brief elaborated by a design team or a company, for the development of a new need-based scenario, already individuated but never sufficiently satisfied by any existing product.

2. Definition and analysis of planning problems linked to the needs found in the brief.

3. Analysis of the similar solutions already existing on the market, and emphasis on pros and cons.

4. Prefiguration of new consumption models and possible product scenarios through which to propose new solutions to the unresolved problems.

5. Definition of a concept aimed to propose innovative solutions to the newly defined project problems.

6. Translation of concepts and project principles defined in a brief of materials required by the project.

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7. Detection of the possible solutions for materials that: may already exist; exist but need to be partially modified; have to be set up ex novo.

8. Development of an integrated design-science system for the definition of new materials systems, compliant with the requirements. In this phase it is fundamental that design and materials science researchers cooperate to the elaboration of shared solutions, radically improving their current research activities, as well as to the production of feasible results, reachable through existing and accessible technologies, economically speaking.

9. Development of shared planning proposals involving synergically materials and products.

10. Selection of the best planning proposal.

11. Project development, feasibility study, prototyping and possible patent.

The intersection of design with mathematics, biology, physics, materials science and chemistry can therefore pave the way for new collaboration scenarios where roles invert, melt and renew continuously, with the purpose of advancing in different fields of research, in a synergic and pro-active way.

Multidisciplinary collaboration is based on the intention of encouraging the confluence of some of the most significative research activities, led at the same time by design and science to reach common concept and planning results to become, at the end of the research course , commercializable and technically feasible products, capable of radically changing the entire progress of scientific research in our everyday life.

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Different knowledge and disciplinary specifications are united to reach conceptual or concrete results, whose guideline is an approach seeking innovation and translation of research into products. By exploring such relationship through different points of view, design and science come closer to each other. The newly born systems of research are numerous and multiform, but always based on the possibility to adopt technical-scientific matrix paradigms and methodologies, capable of controlling the complex panorama of contemporary industrial production and its relationships with cultural aspects, as well as the productive history of a context and the human and territorial value.


[1] – The Hybrid Design Lab is part of IDEAS Department of Seconda Università of Naples and it is coordinated by Carla Langella under the scientific supervision of Patrizia Ranzo.

[2]– In the Hybrid Design Lab the research team coordinated by Carlo Santulli and the other teams coordinated by Mario Malinconico and Maurizio Avella coming from ICTP and CNR manage the competence of materials, with particular attention to the environmental sustainability.