Designing Materials Experiences 

1° Semester, Elective Course, MASTER LEVEL, a.y. 2016/17 – 2017/18

Politecnico di Milano, SCHOOL OF DESIGN

Materials are the key players in the design process. Not only they can give the right shape to artifacts, assuring its function but, they can influence and enhance the relationship between objects, users and life cycles as well. Materials determine the experience and suggest behaviors. If a designer learns all the possibilities that materials and processes allow, surely it will be capable not only to design with them but to profit from all the materials experiences that are possible to embody in products during their lifetime and beyond.

Designing Materials Experiences, is an elective course for Master students, at the School of Design of Politecnico di Milano, focused on DIY-Materials and their taxonomy. It aims to present an alternative approach to the conception and development of materials and their transformation processes. The material and its physicality become the subject of the design activity and the students acquire experience by working directly with the matter and its qualities, through the “hands-on” and creative practice of Material Tinkering. Through this, the design of materials become an explorative process of learning characterized by unexpected and surprising discoveries provoked from the direct interactions and experiments. By focusing on DIY-Materials we enable students to directly engage with materials and produce their own materials, rather then select existing materials to understand and embody into a product.

The proposed approach suggests a change of perspective from what design students have regarding the materiality of artifacts. We look to spread the idea of the matter as a dynamic element in which is crucial to learn how to intervene and experiment, conversely to the usual way to see materials as static and taken for granted. This new design perspective invites students to open eyes to the transversal value that materials possess, contributing to the value of the project thanks to the contamination processes of the course. The course also proposes to transfer a critical vision about materials as relevant actors in the contemporary life trying to launch challenges for a constant rethinking of the material culture. The intended environment for the course will be the one which stimulates and inspire experimentations motivated and shared among participants.

The working methodology offered consisted in a mix of theoretical inputs, interventions from the international experts in the field, and experimentation/development of the materials. Tools and methods to explore, design, and communicate materials will be presented. Specifically, students will be invited to realize material samples defining their formulation, qualities, material identity and experiential patterns. Those patterns will be the starting point to suggest future scenarios of application.

The results of the course have been showcased in different fairs and exhibitions: Design X Designer 2016, In Milan; Construmat 2017, and The Materials Farm 2017, in Barcelona; Interzum 2017, in Cologne.

Learning Objective

  • Explore the emerging concept of Do-It-Yourself Materials and its taxonomy with an experimental approach.

  • Learning and apply different tools and methods for materials experimentation, design, and communication, i.e. Material Tinkering, Diaries, User Studies, Trend observation, Benchmarking, Envisioning, Materials Boards, Video storytelling, etc.

  • Develop an understanding of materials qualities, potentials and limits, through a direct engagement with the material.

  • Develop a new material proposal and a meaningful materials experience.

Key Questions

  • Is it possible to develop materials without scientific knowledge, basing on developing experiential knowledge?

  • What is the role of design in the materials development

  • What is the difference between physical properties of materials and expressive-sensorial qualities of materials

  • What is the future of materials?


  1. Parisi, S., Rognoli, V, Sonneveld, M. (2017). Materials Tinkering. An inspirational approach for experiential learning and envisioning in product design education. In The Design Journal, 20:sup1, S1167-S1184. ISSN: 1460-6925 (Print) 1756-3062 (Online).

  2. Ayala Garcia, C., Rognoli, V., Parisi, S. (2016). The emotional value of DIY-materials. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Design & Emotion  – “Celebration & Contemplation”, 633-641. Amsterdam, The Netherlands, September 27-30. ISBN/EAN: 978-94-6186-725-4



Dr. Valentina Rognoli


Camilo Ayala Garcia

Stefano Parisi