Circular Material for Creative Industries: The Emerging Bioplastics

This is a research activity related to MaDe – Material Designers International Project. MADEC contributes to the project, the research activity, and workshops in the Politecnico di Milano. Our contribution mainly deals with Circular Materials for Creative Industries.

The project MaDe is run by the organizations Elisava, Ma-tt-er, and Politecnico di Milano and is funded by Creative Europe. MaDe is a competition, an event series, and a platform devoted to realizing the positive impact material designers can have across all creative sectors.

Material Designers are agents of change. They can design, redesign, reform, reuse, and redefine materials giving them an entirely new purpose. Increasing the potential of materials they can go on to research, advise, educate and communicate what materials are and can be in the immediate, near, and far future. These actions have the ability to implement positive social, economical, political, and environmental change across all sectors, towards a more responsibly designed future.

MADEC’s contribution addresses in MaDe the topic of the acceleration of the transition towards Circular Economy. This means the reorganization of product manufacturing on sustainability principles to reduce environmental footprint. In this problematic scenario, the topic of Circular Material research is fundamental for both consolidated enterprises and Creative Industries.
Pursuing the intent to give insight, after having briefly highlighted the connection between Creative Industry and design, the MADEC’s contribution clarifies the relationship among CE, sustainability, and material innovation, and present a number of bio-based plastics already developed and placed on the market thanks to giving voice to innovator sensibility and design research awareness according to EU Plastics Strategy.

In the transition toward the Circular Economy process, Design is called In this process, Design is called from the process beginning to establish a new relationship between resources and production.
Focusing on Circular Materials we have analyzed two success stories of Creative industries that have developed news circular materials and highlighting the role of the design-driven material innovation approach and its advisable implementation in CIs. These are Mogu, in Italy, and Sulapac in Finland.

The contribution to this issue is published in:

Ferrara, M. (2021) Circular Material for Creative Industries: The Emerging Bioplastics. In L. Clèries, V. Rognoli, S. Solanki, P. Llorach
Material Designers. Boosting talent towards circular economies (pp. 52-59) Barcelona: Creative Europe. ISBN 978-84-09-24439-3.

The Ultra Surfaces Vision

Investigating the relationship between the physical and the digital dimension of new surfaces has been one of the main tasks of MADEC in the last years.

On this topic, we give our contribution to the ICS_Materials research, Design Department, Politecnico di Milano.

After approaching a subtle link connecting surface design and emotional experience, we move on according to design praxis and develop the UltraSurfaces vision, a new material design vision taking advantage of the latest developments in electronic and smart materials, and their integration in layered substrates and other materials.

The Ultra Surfaces (USs) can detect phenomena in the environment, record and exchange data while being controlled by remote technologies, interact with users by changing their physical properties, like color, form, sound, or light emission, and providing feedback to the user. The USs go a step further than ubiquitous IoT, smart products, and environments, enabling new potentialities for any surface to be applied in Future Scenarios of spaces and products.

Adopting a Human and User-Centered Design approach, we have been envisioned Future Scenarios and concepts to convey a better understanding of USs, as well as their potentiality for applications and user’s appreciation.

We aim to catch the interest of material industries and highlight the challenges design is facing in exploiting the new hybrid materiality of USs.

The materials of reference in our analysis are the industrial laminated surfaces cellulose-based, currently produced by two Italian companies that were invited to collaborate in the research through educational activities, to be inspired by new visions and future scenarios.

The research is published in two different volume:

Ferrara, M., & Pasetti C. (2020). UltraSurfaces: A New Material Design Vision. In Ahram, T., Karwowski, W., Vergnano, A., Leali, F., Taiar, R. (Eds.) Intelligent Human Systems Integration 2020. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration (IHSI 2020): Integrating People and Intelligent Systems, pp. 909-15, February 19-21, 2020, Modena, Italy.

Ferrara, M. (2021) The Ultra Surfaces Vision. In Ferraro, V., Rognoli, V., ICS Materials. Interactive, connected, and smart materials, pp. 141-156. Milan: Franco Angeli
ISBN 9788835115649

Multisensorial experience and emotional involvement with surfaces

La ricerca “Materiali, design ed estetica. Esperienze e coinvolgimenti in Abet laminati”, è una collaborazione con l’azienda ABET Laminati. La ricerca svolta presso MADEC a partire dal 2018 intende contribuire all’avanzamento degli studi sulla percezione dei materiali, delineando una metodologia orientata al design, utile all’analisi delle implicazioni della matericità delle superfici. Queste implicazioni sottendono a coinvolgimenti da cui dipendono l’accettazione e l’apprezzamento di prodotti e innovazioni, insieme alla creazione di significati da parte degli utenti.

La ricerca propone un approccio transdisciplinare tra design/estetica pragmatica/neuropsicologia che mira alla comprensione della complessità dei processi percettivi. Trae dall’Estetica pragmatica, in particolare dalla Somaestetica, l’attenzione al congiunto corpo-mente- emozioni, e ai risvolti in termini di esperienza estetica.

Published in:

Ferrara M. (2020) Per un’estetica delle superfici. Esperienza multisensoriale e coinvolgimenti emotivi. In G. Di
Bucchianico, R. Fagnoni, L. Pietroni, D. Piscitelli, R. Riccini (eds) 100 anni dal Bauhaus. Le prospettive della ricerca di
design, p.186-193. Società Italiana Design.

MADEC participates in IHSI 2019 CONFERENCE AS FOUNDATION MEMBER OF DESign4materials network

Bio-Smart Materials for Product Design Innovation

In the framework of design-driven material innovation approach and cross-disciplinary research practices, the aim of the MADEC’s contribution is to make clear how Bio-Smart Materials are creating new opportunities to realize answers to the complex needs of contemporary society. Emerging Bio-smart Materials create new opportunities to answers the complex needs of contemporary

At IHSI 2019 MADEC together with 2 other components of Design4materials network presents a series of case studies of bio-smart materials applications. These demonstrate a higher propensity for the use of biotechnological innovations.

The case studies are framed in three specific areas:

  • biomedical design
  • sports design
  • design for environment

These areas are particularly interested in the development and application of novel bio-smart materials for both their performances and sustainability.

Anura 3D printed patches of bio-smart polymers, design by G. Califano, Master D.RE.A.M. Academy, 2018. Courtesy Hybrid Lab, SUN.

This contribution is published as following:

Ferrara, M., Langella, C. and Lucibello S. (2019). Bio-smart Materials for Product Design Innovation: Going Through Qualities and Applications. In W. Karwowski, T. Ahram (eds.) Intelligent Human Systems Integration (pp. 634-640). Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration (IHSI 2019): Integrating People and Intelligent Systems, February 7-10, 2019, San Diego, California. Cham: Springer

Augmented Materials for Tangible Interfaces: Experimenting with Young Designers

This paper deals with the design of emerging, augmented, ICS materials in the framework of a Design-Driven Material Innovation approach, presenting a selection of concepts of Tangible Interfaces, developed during a workshop held at Politecnico di Milano. In the attempt to include digital tech- nologies in product and interior design, enhancing human experience and new perspectives for next interactive products, young designers were asked to explore the new possibilities offered by these novel materials in an Experiencing Prototyping and Smart Aesthetics framework. The core of the paper focuses on the outcomes and the analysis of this experience between research and educa- tional activity. The last part refers to the ongoing shift within Design Schools, where the educational mission is increasingly promoting workshops and part- nerships with design oriented companies. The novel technological landscape implies indeed this sort of collaborations, as Design Schools can effectively assist companies in making evidence based decisions.

Starting from an object of everyday use, but with a strong tactile appealing, like a sponge, two of the young designers chose to install within four switches all connected to a speaker, able to reproduce the different sounds related to each of the switchers. Beyond generating a playful almost-living-object, they were able to augment a common yellow sponge only by adding basic components to its physical structure, generating a perceptive dis- placement, while adding a stress-relieving connotation. Such a basic concept disclosed in all its simplicity as an interesting starting point for further developments and future designs. The manipulation of ready-at-hand technology, in a Tinkering scenario, led then to a natural process of implementation of what just the day before represented an unexplored field, somehow challenging and intimidating.

The second concept deals with a more poetic and conceptual design, providing an interesting outcome on the side of augmented textile interfaces. Starting again with a Tinkering based session, two students were intrigued by the direct observation and manipulation of a 12 RGB led ring that inspired them to create a design offering a highly sensorial experience, thanks just to a piece of fabric embedded with an Arduino microprocessor. Connecting indeed a 12 RGB led ring to an Arduino the two students were able to revisit the traditional design of a clock, while rethinking the communicational code relating a human being to a watch or a clock. They used a different color for the led lights, setting the color red for the hours and the blue for the minutes. When the two rays combined, the concept automatically released a purple light. And just to provide a stronger involvement on the user’s side, they manually embroidered the Roman numeral, from zero to twelve, on the fabric. As often suggested while implementing technology to objects of common use, especially for those with a strong culturally rooted design, referring to metaphors helps enhance a UCD User Centered Design approach [11]. Expressing an idea in terms of another, which is basically what metaphors do, both through the language as well as the graphic code, represents a way to shorten the distance, instead of generating a skeptical attitude. So that, metaphors, but also archetypal shapes, while awakening the evocative moments humans tend to go through when approaching novel products or objects [12], do work as useful artifices to stem any prejudice eventually linked to the implementation of emerging technology on objects of everyday use. If well balanced with a multisensory stimulation they can then produce new Smart User Experiences and full-body involvements.

A third concept was inspired by the basic idea of a flower blooming in the presence of light. It aimed to bring the chosen polymeric material to life, letting the petals bloom, once enlightened by a light source. A photo resistor captures light and activates a servomotor that makes the petals move, while switching on the led lights positioned on the corolla. Again, thanks to Arduino and a basic circuit, the concept produced inter- esting outcomes, succeeding in meeting the desired sensorial involvement. The more basic the idea is, with the embedding of electronics just where not expected, the deeper the Smart User Experience can be. Reproducing all the magic of a blooming flower through a simple structure in an artificial context delivered a strong payoff to the students themselves, encouraging their research and inspiring for future scenarios.

Finally, the fourth concept consists in an interactive panel especially conceived for chromotherapy. The students involved installed between two thin layers of a squared white stretch cotton fabric an RGB recognition sensor connected to an Arduino card. Once activated, the light shades produced a sort of “wow effect” in contrast with the minimalism of the design. The communicational code associated to colors, combined with the electronic components, generated an interesting prototype of an interactive material interface. Another starting point then for future implementations, in a Somaesthetics framework, where human body discloses as the tools of tools, the medium of our being, perception and action in relation to the physical world.

Activity published in:

Ferrara, M.; Russo, A. C. (2019). Augmented Materials for Tangible Interfaces: Experimenting with Young Designers. Outcomes and Analysis. In W. Karwowski, T. Ahram (eds) Intelligent Human Systems Integration (pp.667-673). Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration (IHSI 2019): Integrating People and Intelligent Systems, February 7-10, 2019, San Diego, California. Springer DOI:10.1007/978-3-030-11051-2.

Presentazione del libro “Ideas and the Matter”

Presentazione del libro ”Ideas and the matter” curato da Giulio Ceppi e Marinella Ferrara

H 11.30-13 il giorno 4 Maggio 2018

c/o SUPERSTUDIO PIÙ via Tortona, 27 – Milano

all’interno della mostra ‘SMART CITY: MATERIALS, TECHNOLOGY, PEOPLE’

Saluti e benvenuto

  • Rodrigo Rodriquez (presidente Material Connexion)
  • Luisa Collina (preside della scuola del design del Politecnico di Milano)

Introduzione dei curatori del libro

  • Giulio Ceppi e Marinella Ferrara (MADEC/Politecnico di Milano)


modera Fortunato D’Amico (curatore e critico)

  • Giampiero Bosoni (Politecnico di Milano)
  • Michelangelo Pistoletto (Città dell’Arte)
  • Francesco Samorè (Fondazione Bassetti)
  • Clino Trini Castelli (CDMilano)



The expressive-sensorial qualities of self-made bio-plastics

The workshop “The expressive-sensorial qualities of self-made bio-plastics” has been held during the 18th Creative Marathon – International Workshops from the 18-21 December 2017 in Barcelona.

DIY-Materials are defined as materials created through individual or collective self-production experiences, often by techniques and processes of the designer’s own invention, as a result of a process of tinkering with materials. When the designer initiates a self-production path aimed at obtaining the material, she or he realizes that this process is closely related to the study and design of the expressive-sensorial dimension of the material itself. This dimension is characterized by the qualities set determining the sensory relationship with the user, the identity and the recognizability of the material. The expressive-sensorial dimension has a great impact on the definition of the whole materials experience, which is the experience that people have through or with materials. In this workshop, using the recipes for self-produced bioplastics and the approach based on material tinkering, i.e. creative and playful direct experimentation with materials, we want to focus on the qualities of the expressive-sensorial dimension such as touch, texture, transparency, gloss, and color, in order to develop and envision meaningful materials experiences. Furthermore, we encourage students to hack the initial recipes by adding other ingredients and components that could elicit unique aesthetics and smart behaviors. The output is a collection of materials samples embodying different expressive-sensorial qualities. The goal of the workshop is to create the foundations for a material education based on direct experimentation with materials for the acknowledgment and design of their expressive-sensorial dimension.

The laboratory held by the MADEC expert group (Valentina Rognoli, Marinella Ferrara, Camilo Ayala Garcia, Stefano Parisi) and Barbara Pollini stimulated the experimentation of the students with a basic sensory expressive product. These were presented in a final of the workshop where groups of students presented their experiments in a narrative structure of material visions.

More info at the following link:

ICS Materials lectures and seminars promoted by MADEC

MADEC promotes the following lectures and seminars on ICS Materials that will take place at the Design Department of Politecnico di Milano.

  • Monday 06/11, h.14.15 | Campus Bovisa, B2.3.4

unpacking the relationship between materials and interactive experience
Lecturer: Daniela Petrelli | Professor of Interaction Design at the Art & Design Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

  • Tuesday 07/11, h14.15 | Campus Bovisa, B2.1.8

exploring interactivity, connectivity, and smartness in nature
Lecturer: Barbara Pollini | Sustainable designer and professor in Materials and new technologies for the project innovation at Naba design University, Milan, Italy

  •  Monday 13/11, h11.15 | Campus Bovisa, B2.3.4

design to achieve dynamic experiences
Lecturer: Marta González Colominas | PhD in Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering. Coordinator of the Materials and Sustainability area for the Degree in Engineering of Industrial Design, ELISAVA, Barcelona, Spain.

  • Tuesday 14/11, h14.15 | Campus Bovisa, B2.1.8

SEMINAR including the following the lectures:

designing products that are worn (everyday)
Lecturer: Oscar Tomico | PhD and Head of Studies of the Degree in Engineering in Industrial Design, ELISAVA, Barcelona, Spain.

exploring materials and processes for computational artefacts, through studio craft practices
Lecturer: Vasiliki Tsaknaki | PhD candidate and teacher assistant at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

More lectures and seminars to follow.  Stay tuned!




Ideas and the Matter: What will we be made of and what will the world be made of?

di Chiara Catgiu

Finally, the book born from the compendium of Madec’s one-year research is out.

Contributors come from several and diverse disciplines (medicine, biotechnology, engineering, art, anthropology, architecture and design), which design thoughts are fed by.

What will we be made of and what will the world be made of? Sciences and technologies are extending design fields, modifying materials and everything that surround us, even our body, redefining on a perceptive level the boundary between things and us.

To identify the actual evolution of the relationship between sciences, knowledge and design, Madec (Material Design Culture Research Centre) of Politecnico di Milano, started in 2014 a wide debate with a series of contributions about innovation trajectories with well known scholars of many disciplines, researchers, professionals and companies.

This public debate, entitled “Ideas and the matter” opens new options for design action today, new ideas, and the definition of design approaches, contributing to the development of a new methodology of creativity-driven material innovation that, in a world full of opportunities but also problems to be solved, helps design to play a role of “giving new meanings”, through designing materials and things with a critical approach.

This is a mission designers cannot abdicate, following the successes of “Design Thinking”, which was opening up to social innovation challenges and achieving creative solutions beyond the reach of conventional structure and method. Innovative materials have been estimated to underpin directly or indirectly 70% of all technical innovations and this percentage is estimated to be steadily growing in the period to 2030. However, multi-functional, reliable, well-performing, safe, sustainable, recyclable materials are essential but not always sufficient for the commercial success of products.1

Upstream collaboration between product designers, material scientists and engineers is critically important to link the market pull with the potential of new materials and technologically advanced systems and creative solutions.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Terzo Paradiso.

iCub, the humanoid robot developed at IIT as part of the EU Project RobotCub.

Ecovative Design, Mushroom Packaging, 2015.

Austeja Platukyte, That’s it, biodegradable packaging from algae-based material, 2016.

Amy Karle, Regenerative Reliquary, 2016.

In the last few years, “Design Thinking” has gained popularity and it is now seen as an exciting new paradigm for dealing with problems in sectors as far as IT, Business, Education and Medicine. This potential success challenges the design research community to provide unambiguous answers to two key questions: “What is the core of Design Thinking?” and “What could it bring to practitioners and organizations in other fields?”.2

At the same time, “Open Innovation” is a go-to process stimulating way of creating positive change in production.3

The open innovation paradigm can be interpreted to go beyond just using external sources of innovation such as customers, rival companies, and academic institutions, and can be as much a change in the use, management, and employment of intellectual property as it is in the technical and research driven generation of intellectual property. In this sense, it is understood as the systematic encouragement and exploration of a wide range of internal and external sources for innovative opportunities, the integration of this exploration with firm capabilities and resources, and the exploitation of these opportunities through multiple channels.

The book can be bought at the following link


2 Kees Dorst, Design Studies, Vol 32 No. 6 November 2011, “The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application”

Sustainable materials from conifer needles

di Chiara Catgiu

The pine needles are nowadays of interest for the materials industry.

Pine is one of the most common type of tree, so there is no shortage of pine needles. Tapping into this organic, biologically degradable resource is, moreover, a simple matter, involving cooperation with branches of industry that use the wood from the pines, but not their needles. And the use of pine needles is said to have another significant benefit, when we think how effective the essential oils in pine needles are at keeping insects away.

Environmentally-friendly sound-absorbing materials, which are made of conifer-derived sustainable materials, fulfill all these requirements. The project idea of the Russian Aotta Studio focuses on sustainable material usage without environment harming. The new sound-absorbing fiber material is in fact based on conifer-needle and on a biodegradable binder. It has natural color and texture that creates forest atmosphere in interior. Panels from the new material create a comfortable working atmosphere in the interior and are a bright and flexible tool for interior designers.1

Also freestanding panels are created by the Aotta Studio by using this new acoustic material from conifer needles. 2

The fibers of the pine needles, without the dry exterior leaves, can be turned into useful forms also for the textile industry where they harbor huge potential.

The industrial process by which these can be accessed and harvested, and then very fine yarns made from them, is somewhat of a challenge, however, but it can be done. The yarns can be colored with natural dyes. Moreover, different types of pine and fir produce different natural shades of dye, which can be used to print on textiles. Katharina Jebsen goes into the details of how to open up the needles. In the process, new types of material emerge, which can be used as the basis for further material mixes. The results of this materials study can, in turn, be transferred to various types of needles. For example, it has been shown that the needles of the fir tree, too, can be used in the making of textiles. 3

Some examples of these new textiles obtained from the fibers of the conifer needles are shown below.


From pine needles it is also possible to obtain a new eco-sustainable plastic, able to replace the traditional one, made with oil, in the production of bags, food and medical packages. The grams of this new material were obtained in the laboratories of the University of Bath, Great Britain, thanks to a procedure described in the journal Polymer Chemistry.

“We’re not talking about recycling old Christmas trees into plastics, but rather using a waste product from industry that would otherwise be thrown away and turning it into something useful,” PhD student Helena Quilter, who worked on the new plastic, said in a press release. The team has only produced a few grams of the pine plastic so they plan to work on scaling it up. Once they begin generating larger quantities of the plastic, the chemists envision it could be used for food packaging, plastic bags and medical implants, they told the university. Davidson indicated he thinks that their raw material made from pine could potentially revolutionize the chemical industry. There are already biodegradable polyesters on the market, such as the PLA obtained from corn and sugar cane: to increase its flexibility, however, this material is often mixed with a chewy polymer called capro-lactone, instead of crude oil. To produce a truly 100% sustainable ecological plastic, Bath researchers have developed a ‘social’ capro-lactone material by utilizing pinene as a raw material, a natural organic compound that gives the distinctive odor to conifer needles.4

 These materials from conifer needles demonstrate how the production of natural and sustainable materials are possible without damaging the entire ecosystem and by maintaining material properties at the core of the production system.