26-06-2019 • Article

Material Literacy

It’s Nice That asked us to write a piece as part of their new Response and Responsibility series, a selection of articles that focus on creative responses to climate change. We decided to question the impact of shifting our current material vocabularies and how this rethinking can positively affect how we engage with the world around us.

Read anything about the ongoing climate breakdown and you’ll invariably stumble upon the idea of sustainability, a term that seems to be in use across every single discipline and industry going. Everyone wants to know how they can be sustainable, and it’s something I’m asked time and time again.

Luckily for us at Ma-tt-er, materials are the key component. They are the foundation of everything that exists on the planet, from experimental one-offs to mass-manufacturing, the local to the global, the handmade to the machine-generated, the ephemeral to the eternally enduring.

Working with materials in a truly sustainable manner means that we can create a positive impact across society, the environment, policy, and economics. Fundamentally, it is about achieving an equilibrium between the planet and its people.

For a long time, serious study of materials had been largely consigned to academia and the sciences, but it is now a subject being explored beyond those remits. With Ma-tt-er, I wanted to create a place in which materials and their designers could be understood as the societal glue which hold industries together. After all, everything is made of something, right?

That means, to Ma-tt-er at least, that we all need an understanding of how things are made and where they come from. This knowledge can then inform our choices and lifestyles, allowing us to make decisions which are rooted in an interest in crisis aversion.

We believe that knowledge of this kind needs to be presented and communicated in as clear a manner as possible, knowing that while the language used in academia and the sciences is often incredibly precise, it can feel a bit distant from the world most of us live in.

Our practice relies on a simple methodology. Put simply, everything is channeled through a three-stage process.

We consider the “identity” of the material first. This allows us to change the way we categorise materials; no longer understanding them as physical types, we’re interested in emotional and functional qualities. Rather than asking if something is made of glass, plastic or metal, we think about whether it’s soft, warm, flexible or transparent. This allows us to produce a more sustainable outcome by immediately introducing materials into the design process.

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