Posted In: Connect FALL

Keep Consumer Experience at the Core of Material Choices

Dr. Gayatri Keskar of Material Connexion urged home and housewares developers to keep consumer experience at the center of design and material choices in the latest episode of  “Material Matters.” 

Material Matters, a collaboration of the International Housewares Association, Material Connexion, Springboard Futures and BridgeTower Media, was featured during the IHA Connect FALL virtual event. Dr. Keskar, vice president, research for Material Connexion, fielded questions from Tom Mirabile, founder of Springboard Futures and IHA trend analyst; and Allison Zisko, executive editor of Home Accents Today. 

Dr. Gayatri said material advances are playing a central role in stimulating cognitive and emotional responses for more engaged consumer experiences with everyday products.   

Brands have an opportunity to share the story of a product’s material through all stages of its life, Gayatri said. “Make sure you are equally invested in the relationship with the consumer experience from the start to the end of life [of a product],’ she said. 

Springboard Future’s Mirabile added, “This gives retailers and brands a way to keep speaking to the consumer throughout the life of a product.” 

Gayatri identified key considerations impacting material choice in product design, including performance, sustainability, experience and open innovation. On open innovation, she said partnerships across the supply chain with parties that can contribute to material innovation helps reduce the time to market of new material application. 

Asked by Mirabile to assess the value to consumers of transparency and traceability of material origin, Dr. Gayatri answered, “The origin of material is an important part of material story… It’s very important to authenticate claims and to provide direction on what to do next.”  

Consumers once less interested in the specifics of what makes a product sustainable — such as if it is renewable or made of recycled content — now want more data confirming details of a product’s genuine sustainability, Dr. Gayatri explained. 

The discussion turned to the growing use of agricultural waste, such as rice hulls, coffee beans and orange peels, in the development of bioplastics that sometimes outperform their non-organic counterparts.  

Gayatri, noting the growth of sensory materials infused with unique aromas and slightly irregular textures, said consumers are embracing subtle imperfections that can give a product a one-off quality and unique aesthetic beauty while telling the story of a material’s origin. “That creates an emotional bond with the consumer,” she said.

Dr. Gayatri shared examples of innovative material applications aligned to improved consumer experiences. 

Embedded technology was spotlighted in a fabric with electrically conductive layers for heating, sensing and lighting; and a flexible solar cell material that can be processed to look like leather or carbon fiber while enabling self-powered products, such as wireless headphones. “It becomes a design element, not just a supporting technology,” Dr. Gayatri said. 

Also featured were new surface texturing material concepts that blend functional and decorative qualities, such as soft-touch finishes created through injection molding without needing a separate coating; and flexible, laser-etched wood veneers that can be applied to products of different shapes. 

She also spotlighted a new material process enabling one-of-kind, custom personalization by crafting a single 3D-printed piece with different zone densities. She cited a bicycle helmet blending a soft custom fit with hardened protection zones.  

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