Possible Futures: How to be innovative in the Post-COVID era

Under the title “Design, Science and Tecnology”, Noemi Cortizas one of YDEMAKER associates and co-founder, participated in a workshop with some other experts to explore the synergy betune design, Sciences and technology in these new post-covid times.

She spoked about how materials and cmf design, could be able to help companies to thrive in the actual market. From the analysis of consumer trends to the application of new technologies and material possibilities. In this book she also shares her vision about design and innovation, as a transversal methodology, now companies and designer cannot be closed in their corner working, they must search for new skills and complements, even searching for partnerships to push innovation even more.

Cover of the published book

Though the original article is in Spanish, here you can find its translation in english.

Living in France for years, Noemí Cortizas is an industrial designer trained in mechanical engineering, passionate about innovation and design for people, fields for which she was trained in Paris. Its specialty is product design and, above all, the CMF design branch , which focuses on the research of materials, colors and finishes to satisfy a market that is increasingly demanding and evolving very quickly. Since 2017 she has been working at Roctool identifying market trends and managing design and innovation projects (R&D) to obtain prototypes and scalable and industrializable results.

One of the functions of the CMF is the “prediction” of trends, consumer universes, etc. I would like you to explain what it consists of and what fields the CFM explores and what you think will change, or what possibilities are opening or closing in this field after this health crisis where we are asked to “not touch”.

The CMF is a very new discipline that is still beginning its expansion, but for which large brands worldwide are betting on it. The interest of large groups in this discipline is that it can bring product differentiation and adaptation to increasingly demanding market trends , with a very efficient use of industrial resources and technologies . To put it in a more technical and business language . It allows to create variants and new products with a minimal change of tooling. Why? Because the CMF does not work the shape but the outermost surface . This surface is the first that interacts with the senses of the consumer and that is often a decisive factor between whether they make a purchase or not. When we speak of surface, we refer to the colors (varnishes, pigments…), the materials used and the design of those surfaces. That is why it is a discipline with so much potential, since it allows a product to return to its commercial “brilliance ” or increase it , in the event that it has not lost it , with minimal changes in the production chain, which is synonymous with a small investment with a lot of return. 

How do we make that product attractive across the surface? I’m going to make a simile with something simpler : A cook can create dishes with textures that are very pleasant to the palate and also an attractive visual that makes you want to enjoy the dish. All this is achieved through an acquired knowledge of the different cooking techniques and the search for new ways to combine them to create appetizing dishes . CMF designers do something similar . First we study all the technologies and material possibilities , both those that exist on the market and those that are being investigated. Then , we establish the objectives to be explored based on a market search that allows us to identify the dominant trends in the medium and long term. Once we have a clear mental map of what we want to achieve and the tools at our disposal, we set about creating the “plate” combining all the knowledge to create a product that connects with the consumer when he interacts with him. I must add that these “emotions” or perceptions transmitted do not have to be limited only to whether something is pleasant or not, it can also be used to communicate a brand language , meet other requirements of a more functional nature or create a visual that stands out and make it unique next to similar products from the competition.

As for the fields in which the CMF is applied, I can say that it is present in everything . You can find many professionals in the automotive world, from where he made the jump to the other fields. The world s cosmetics and electronics also are betting was rte this discipline especially in the field of new materials . Proof of this is not only the creation of departments dedicated to this branch within the “giants” of each market, but also the increase and increase in importance that is beginning to be given in several countries to material libraries .

The most direct consequence of our current situation (not touching), is not only the distancing but also the lack of comfort produced by being locked up or very limited in your daily interactions. People have very limited options , which can increase depression or some other psychological problem that prevents them from being comfortable . That’s when the sensory design (CMF) can play an important asset to help Alig erar possible mental stress.

One case in which the CMF has already begun to be applied is that of virtual reality. There are several agencies and emp RESAs focused on 3D realistic experience as possible that have begun to collaborate with designers in this discipline to understand: “what interactions with our senses, makes n a material ? Be perceived as real” . Co mo can make people enjoy one experien ce truly immersive 100%? For me, this is one of the fields that I follow more closely since I consider that it has incredible potential, not only to help with this situation, but also to create new online and offline experiences.

The other field where the CMF can help is in the materials themselves . Currently, t odes our social interactions need to have some way of physical barrier or distance preventive in case that there is no to that barrier physical . The problem with all this is that it minimizes, in a certain way , the quality of life derived from social interaction . I believe that the creation of materials that minimize that sensation of barrier will be an important factor. For example, what makes a handshake warm? The look of the people , a smile, but the effusiveness of the grip , the touch of the skin of the hand and the warmth it transmits is also very important . I admit, it’s a very technical way to explain it can take certain romance to the idea, per or is to do a handshake with gloves, is as cold and somewhat bland? U n material to protect the people, but at the same time allow a more humane and less cold contact is a possible successful product .

You have worked on international innovation projects for clients. Well-known brands among which are companies such as Auchan , SNCF or other major brands in the world of cosmetics and luxury products. What new trends are there and what benefits do you think the CMF can bring to large companies or SMEs?

The world of luxury has been leaning towards the sustainable side for a long time , focusing on creating experiences for the user not only selling a product but a whole universe . Among many other things , they seek to offer a kind of balance to consumers between meeting their needs and minimizing their environmental impact. It is no longer just that the product uses sustainable materials and processes, but it goes further . I mean what to do when a package or product has reached the end of the of his life useful. It is intended that it can be recycled or reused in the best conditions and that is where companies can take advantage of this discipline of design . No need to talk about luxury anymore . There are many SMEs in France that are focusing on local production and more sustainable practices . E ste approach their work as they have invested in research of materials and finishes or dyes (for fashion) that can prove that their products have a positive impact measurable in the environment and society. For them it is a great value so bre which can n capitalize and increase your sales volume.

Another approach is what you might call “naturalness.” To explain it in an easy to understand way, we are surrounded by many products made from materials that “mimic” but are not 100% like the original material. This is something very widespread and popular for years in the market, especially from a cost point of view , but this lack of authenticity minimizes the user experience. H oday, there are industrial technologies and options are investigating who may have great potential in the field of “authenticity”. These options are, in many cases, just as cost competitive as knockoffs . C on the advantage that a product made with an authentic material and not an imitation, has a perception of superior quality, allowing a more human and personal relationship with that product. Thanks to this detail, the companies that bet on it can put a sale price slightly higher than the ” imitation ” without negatively affecting their sales volume. This is a trend that is entering the world of consumer electronics strongly . Large companies want smart objects to be as natural as possible . That they are not only for example a speaker, but one more decorative element of the house . U n example of a first approximation are smart speakers google or the Alexa Amazon , created by their internal teams specializing in the design CMF . For now, a cloth coating is used over plastic, but this trend is here to stay and I am sure it will evolve to offer more materials.

The last one I’d like to add is customization. People seek to be themselves and show what they are, not only through their person but also through their environment. As a result, a product that offers a customizable option is a guaranteed success. The reason for success is that this product becomes “yours” by being able to give that personal touch. Cosmetic companies, especially in the luxury field, are very keen to get objects with more and more customization options. Which is a very smart move , because apart from offering a container and its content, the big brands are offering an exclusive service. The other advantage associated with personalization is that to l be made to your taste and adapted by and for you, this is your “own” container makeup. With this approach, you make it easier for the consumer to want to reuse that container, removing from the equation the harmful philosophy of “use and throw away” that is responsible for more than 40% of plastics in the ocean .  In these cases, it is interesting to use materials that are not only resistant, but can also age “with style”.

There are many options in which I have worked for my clients, but because I did not make it very long, I preferred to focus on those three. As can be seen, although they are different, they all have one element in common, they seek to create a link through a sensory experience that triggers certain emotions. As I mentioned before, these emotions can be included in a very large range that can go from the creation of a brand language of its own that makes a company easily recognizable in a market as saturated as the current one or something focused on more emotions. functional as a feeling of security, more resistance , more tactile functions, luminosity etc.

For all of you reading this, I would like to add an observation that may also serve as motivation. If large companies are investing a lot of money researching options from the point of view of the materials to use, it is because it is worth it . Fortunately, there are many options to achieve these objectives that can easily be adapted to the smaller budgets of SMEs, this “advantage” is not something only available to large groups.

I would like you to be able to highlight and explain the possibilities of some materials that you have worked with and can be innovative when applied .

I have worked with many materials, I could name several very interesting ones. But the number of innovative materials that there is so great that I consider more efficient to talk about some of the dist intas possible aspects. So I will focus on those who think they have more potential to be key to the time of the success of a product, one camp to Nã marketing associated with it and, of course , a benefit to social and environmental level.

The first one I’m going to talk about is upcyling . For those more neophytes in the subject, it consists of using new materials from the remains produced by other industries. The DIY trend from remains is very popular , as it is famous tables made from pallets old from logistics companies that pull once they no longer need . The principle of this slope is very simple. Why use raw materials if we have “waste” that we can use? Well, there are a large number of companies (and SMEs) that focus their efforts on using the garbage produced not only by other industries but also by consumers themselves, reaching very creative options. To give a few examples: a leather made from salmon skin that is used to make smoked fish, an injectable plastic material made from 100% yogurt cups, coffee sprinkles , or mussel shells . I even know an SME that makes an injectable resin from gum that people throw away after chewing, which makes all the sense in the world, since chewing gum is still a polymer . And without going very far , and l in Galicia CTAG is a material that is a clear example of ” upcycling “, we are talking about a resin made from the remains of the timber industry and gardening.

The other great aspect is recycling, having for my two variations . On the one hand, the mere fact of recycling a product or container before it reaches the trash. On the other, the famous circular economy that surely most have heard of at some time . The basic idea is very clear, to give a second life to a product once its use is finished . From the first, to say that many will know about recycled plastic , but clothes and many other things are also recycled . There is an SME in the north of France that makes sewing threads from old clothes. They have developed an industrial process that allows them to shred clothes to create a paste from which they extract a thread to weave . The other aspect, based on the circular economy, is the same only that it has an added variable that is key to its value: In one way or another, its “use” has a positive impact on both the environment and society. d. I have had the pleasure for some time to work with a Canadian SME that has a product that is a clear example of circular economy . The beauty of the plastic they sell is that it does not come from your container or mine, but comes from the most economically depressed countries . This SME pays the people a wage that allows them access to medical services, education and eat in exchange for Plas tico collecting from beaches . This plastic is then transformed to be injected into new products. Among its clients there are large cosmetic groups not only luxury but also focused on mass consumption. It’s a good idea, and an interesting track to follow. There are also bioplastics , which are of 100% vegetable origin or at least mixed with some resin.

-How do you think the future of disciplines such as product design can change after this crisis?

I think design is going to change, in fact, it has to evolve in order to survive, but this reflection also applies to companies. For something very basic, the lack of resources that we will face, among which the money available is also included.

From the point of view of design h ay in my opinion, and I guess I’m not alone in thinking , two types of designers. One is using technology to realize his idea and , if the technology or the cost associated production does not allow it , adapts and makes evolve a design to reach a workable compromise . The other is the one that wants to force technology to fulfill its idea and its will, as a consequence its design implies extra costs that are rarely acceptable or too long windows of time. In the future that comes, I believe that the designer who will go forward will be the one in the first case. Someone who not only can apply empathy to understand the consumer but also can hab lar language of an engineer and understand the s technology today s to understand their potential and what can n ofrec erle to invent new solutions. P or I think that hybrid profiles play a role imp ortant in the design , to make the most with limited resources. To give some examples: a designer who uses big data to find what people are looking for in furniture or clothing instead of spending a lot of time with more traditional methods of market research , another who focuses his studies on establishing criteria for design for products adapted to technology 4.0 … Unfortunately, today there are many hybrid profiles or “free electrons” that can contribute a lot and make a great competitive difference, but few are the managers or companies that can appreciate the value of these people or know how to get the best out of them.

As for companies, I believe that several of them, although I hope I am wrong, will opt for the most “obvious” and wrong solution . We have entered into a major crisis and many inversore s make the decision not only to re cut pr esupue hese innovation , but also to ignore what design can do for them to improve their internal performance. Let’s start from the basis that “Design Thinking” is a work methodology that designers have burned into our heads after years of study and work. This methodology is an empathic approach that focuses fully on e l “target user” (ie enterprise or consumer). As designers, we make every effort includes r and identify constraints that prevent them realize their visions do or the pitfalls that may affect their full capacity . Once the different solutions have been studied, the one that is the best is chosen to be able to deal with these limitations.  Well, now I am going to speak from two points and why in both companies can obtain economic profit.

If we study it from the point of view of the consumer end of the answer why the design is beneficial to the company facing the future , it is clear. Before this crisis, consumers were looking for sustainable products, for them it was very important to have a clear conscience that with their purchase they were showing a position and guiding the market towards respect for the environment. Now, because the available resources (money) are more limited, not only will that position be reinforced, but each consumer will reflect before buying. From this reflection, the consumer will obtain his list of requirements and will only buy what meets them in full or to a greater extent. And that is where the importance of design comes in since, thanks to the methodology explained above , the resulting product or service will have the characteristics that satisfy the demands that the consumer will have reached as a result of their reflection . L or which result in a sale.  Why not invest in design and innovation to be “unique” and relevant is an error that will influence, most likely , negatively causing a negligible decrease in profits or turnover. Although initially the only manufacture cheaper seems to work is not a viable approach l a distance race that is already c omenzado .

The other point is that of the company as “user” end and benefit river of design internally. Any entrepreneur, both SMEs and large groups, will have faced various internal operating problems between departments, or will have appreciated that their way of working is not the most efficient and optimal , to give some examples of these pitfalls .  They are obviously aware that they are not the only ones. But I’m sure that many are unaware that companies that have nothing to do with design studios, such as THALES (railway signaling), Intuit (accounting service) or Kaiser (American medical management company ), decided to hire studios from design that apply this work methodology to improve their performance. No, they did not touch any of the office décor, they simply limited themselves to improving the interdepartmental functioning between departments, removing duplications, establishing action guidelines for different assumptions , helping to establish relevant and beneficial long-term goals, as well as guidelines and working methods to be followed in each case. Each of these solutions was tailor-made for each company . The first trials were carried out around 2004, and many companies have replicated the success of these forerunners by internally integrating designer cells that limit themselves to identifying limitations and operational problems in order to provide solutions. This is a clear, not-so-perceptible example of how design can evolve.

But I would also like to talk about innovation and its importance for a competitive industry in the future to come. I always say that design is not doing something beautiful or changing a color, R&D and design are closely related . R & D investigates the possible theoretical and small – scale applications, while the good you designer ‘s and engineers translates n in an application or solution pair to society and businesses scale industry l. A MBAs are fed back .

You have worked on the creation process from waste. What are the challenges we face in the field of sustainability or recycling and what are the trends that you consider essential in this regard?

I am going to respond with my own reflection, which I hope will be educative for consumers and a motivator or source of ideas in case someone related to a company, SME or research center reads it. Although it seems that everything is invented, and so some media want us to believe, it is not true. There is still much room for improvement and avenues for exploration. All existing aspects, even the same ones I spoke about earlier, still have great challenges to face.

For starters, I take bioplastics with tweezers. Not just because it is of plant origin is it positive for the environment, something to take into account not only as companies but also as consumers. This is the case, for example, of sugarcane, which is very easy to inject without having to mix it with a phenolic resin (petroleum). The problem is that sugarcane needs specific weather conditions, so it cannot be grown anywhere. One of the places where it is most cultivated is the Amazon rainforest. The same applies to other resins plant, we put n in a quandary. Should we focus thousands of hectares for a single crop that meets the needs of a huge market , with the negative consequences that this has for biodiversity? There are other options, such as mixing material of vegetable origin with resins of petroleum origin in different proportions , but it is not the most interesting solution, since it leaves us closer to the starting box than the arrival box.

A very similar dilemma occurs in the field of recycled plastics. Once usad or plastic must be transformed back so that it can again be Inject Tado . Due to this process , and the wear already suffered during its use, this plastic has lost much of its functional and visual properties. As a consequence, we often get a product with a poor visual appearance. A the same as in the case of the bioplastics , the solution most widespread and s also the mixture of post-consumer recycled resin with virgin resins in different proportions, almost always less than that of virgin resin recycled resin. So, as you can see, there is still a long way to go to obtain fully sustainable products. We are still nowhere near the goal.

Analyzing everything closely, I consider that the most viable solution and in which it is best to invest in the long term is the recycling of industrial waste. Worldwide there are a large number of product s that are manufactured each year in all industr ias, as a result we have a lot of debris that not only has n great potential to become new feedstocks for other services and products , it is also something very necessary . Proof of this are the conversations I have with suppliers of these types of materials. T ll always they tell me the same thing, there is a great demand for their products, leading to supply hundreds of thousands of kilos of materials each year for fashion industries, cosmetics and consumer products. And even with all that demand , they still have more than half of the available stock left over. 

The other solution to consider is recycling itself, but looking for it to revert to society in some way. The Auchan project , for example, is one of my favorites. Its purpose was to create a material to produce new consumer products from the old clothes that people throw away . But the other added value of this project was that the collection, classification and preparation of the clothes was carried out by Le Relais . An SME, based in Lille, that employs people at risk of social exclusion by paying them a salary that allows them to live with dignity. With which it is a project that provides two solutions, one to employ people with economic problems and two to reduce the environmental impact of the millions of tons of clothes that are burned every year.

Such solutions are those which, from my point of view, will be the basis to create products and services that give n an important economic benefit and sustainable growth.

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