Combining technology, tradition and meaning is the future of design

Combining technology, tradition and meaning is the future of design

Technology is increasingly being integrated into textile, lifestyle and fashion design, with concepts such as 3D printing, wearables and biomaterials steadily gathering momentum. But the seemingly inexorable push towards technology-infused design is tempered with a growing desire to hold onto traditional values and customs. Society wants products that are both smart and have meaning, and this in turn is leading designers to camouflage technology in more readily recognisable forms.

Speaking at the Julius Baer Next Generation Summit in Zurich, Switzerland, designer and researcher Elena Corchero, said: “We still seek an emotional bond with the products we buy, and this is inspiring designers to set new standards by intertwining technology, fashion and heritage.”

For example, Apple has joined forces with luxury fashion brand Hermès to create anew take on the Apple Watch, combining the design and functionality of the smart watch with a more traditional look and feel. Similarly, Corchero, who describes herself as a “technology artisan”, operates at the intersection of futuristic high technology and traditional craftsmanship. At her Lost Values Creative Lab in London, she specialises in designing and creating smart materials and wearables. More than that, she aims to bring meaning back to consumption, giving people the opportunity to purchase products they will treasure rather than discard.

“Most products are mass produced, made in a way that has little meaning for the maker or the consumer, and often end up in landfill,” says Corchero. “True innovation is in the meaning of a product. Designers have the opportunity to influence consumer behaviour by embedding values deep into the design and production of their creations.”

Corchero’s steadfast belief in infusing products with meaning goes back to the values she learned as a child. The daughter of an engineer and a tailor, she was encouraged to make her own clothes, and in doing so, realised that possessions tailored to our needs have a long-lasting appeal. It is this fundamental idea that resonates across her work.

Through her diverse designs, Corchero seeks to understand how technology can be used to solve a social challenge, while remaining true to traditional values. At the Next Generation Summit, Corchero displayed two of her creations to the audience: a smart necklace and a reflective scarf. The necklace features a synthetic crystal called Albedonite, which changes colour from pale white to dark fuchsia when exposed to UV rays, reminding the wearer to protect themselves from the sun. Meanwhile, the scarf glows in the dark to help urban cyclists stay safe and fashionable. The project is inspired by Britain’s traditional wool artisans, and with planning for the “afterlife” of products a vital part of thoughtful design, the reflective ingredients are environmentally friendly.

Beyond the products themselves, technology could also bring greater meaning to the manufacturing process, Corchero believes. For example, as 3D printing evolves, mass customisation of clothing could become possible. And as we begin to see a renaissance of the made-to-measure philosophy and as consumer demand for transparency grows, having the ability to communicate online with the maker of our clothes could help to deliver the clarity people need. Corchero refers to a knitwear design shop in London, where people can see all the materials used, observe the manufacturing process and have their clothes made on demand.

“Technology can play an enabling role in helping to regain some of the concepts we lost through industrialisation,” explains Corchero. “Used in the right way, it can help to re-establish a bond between the maker and the consumer, reintroduce the concept of made-to-measure and rekindle a sense of community.”

“We’ll see more materials developed through biomimicry,” she says. “There are already self-healing materials in the construction industry, such as self-healing asphalt and cement. The most disruptive innovations are therefore likely to emerge from advances in biology and chemistry.”

Elsewhere, wearable technology is already proving useful in sport and medicine, with biometric tracking devices to monitor athletes’ performance and smart prosthetics to improve mobility. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, this could even pave the way for people to become “super-charged humans”, according to Corchero, opting for enhancing implants powered by glucose in the brain. Ultimately, the desire to improve our physical and mental performance, inspired by qualities we see in nature, will drive the future of wearable technology.

This article was originally published on the Guardian Sustainable Business website.