Day two of Design Connections kicked off with an engaging panel discussion that revealed a rather interesting truth: that to make a big difference in the world of design, sometimes you need to start small—really small. Titled “Molecules Matter,” the session emphasized the importance of combining the fields of chemistry and technology to bring about positive disruption in product design and arrive at creative solutions.
Design Connections 2019 Coverage
Moderated by Todd Sims, director of sustainability and market outreach for the American Chemistry Council, the panelists shared from their collective experiences how product innovation can be achieved by broadening the conversation to include people not traditionally involved in the conversation—and that failure can be a catalyst for success. For example, Linda M. Gabel, facility planner at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, noted that a costly fabric failure at their facility led to a chemistry investigation.
When the hospital enlisted the help of chemists to determine how cleaning products were reacting with its upholstery fabrics, it was discovered that human contact on the seats left oil and sweat residue that interacted with cleaning agents which ultimately destroyed the fabrics. Such a disruption based on adversity ended up being the spark used to drive innovation for a new product.
Experimenting with Materials
Likewise, panelist Donald Strum, principal of product design at Michael Graves Architecture & Design related his firm’s experience redesigning the wheelchair—a product that has essentially remained unchanged for more than a century. Working with hospital clients, the design team set out to make a wheelchair that was simpler, more durable and prevented the spread of infection.
Experimenting with different materials, the Stryker wheelchair was ultimately constructed of powder-coated steel and vinyl that features easily replaceable parts and an attractive design. “All you need is two or three insights to make something transformative,” he said.
Deidre Hoguet, director of applied research at Designtex, noted how the textile company is responding to the wellness trend to continue to innovate its products at the micro level. Utilizing tools such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Designtex is setting benchmarks for improvements that ultimately have an impact on human health.
Sign up for the Molecules Matter Webinar | February 18th
However, she noted that “we can’t look at products in a vacuum” and that only looking at Red Lists and chemicals of concern is too limited. “We have to look at things holistically, including cleaning, and we need to ask, what is the purpose of the product, and how do we design for the whole picture?
In other words, molecules really do matter when inventive technologies and chemistry formulations are begin used to solve design problems.
All photography provided by Robert Nieminen
Attendees then broke out into one-on-one sessions and boardroom meetings with manufacturers to learn more about the latest product introductions and solutions—and key disruptors—that are making an impact in the market. The day ended with a Night of Giving, which included a lively design challenge in which a number of teams created lighting fixtures using building blocks from wakaNINE and fabric from Sunbrella that will be donated to the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
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