Creative Material Development

Creative Resource Lab

Building the emotional link between consumers, products and services.


The use of new materials and technologies will play a role in shaping our future surroundings. A major challenge is the integration of new materials, such as nanotech and composites, with our current surroundings and everyday products. They pose a major challenge for designers and engineers, as well as the rest of us that have to use and consume these less familiar technologies.

Nanotech is an exciting area of material development for designers. There are many examples of products and materials that harness the extreme properties of nanotech, such as self-cleaning surface coatings, super strong and super light composites, and colour-shifting finishes. The exciting potential of these new discoveries, such as carbon nanotubes, has yet to be fully explored in the design of our everyday surroundings. Recently, however, the use and applications of nanotech materials has been criticised, because the impact of these materials and substances on our health and environment is not yet fully understood.

Designers are familiar with proposing and designing many years ahead. New materials and technologies demonstrate a vision of what's around the corner. Whilst it is essential to take current knowledge and understanding into account, designers have another important role: to challenge the rest of us to see an otherwise unexpected future.


Visit Creative Resource Lab for more information

Smart Pods Future Ambulance

Royal College of Art Helen Hamlyn Centre and Vehicle Design

Following on from Ambulance Design for Patient Safety, Roger Coleman of RCA and Sue Hignett of Loughborough University, proposed a new area of research to the EPSRC: meeting the longer-term challenges of taking healthcare to the patient as set out in the 2005 Department of Health report of that name. The EPSRC organised an intensive five-day workshop on the subject, which resulted in a number of new research collaborations. The Smart Pods project is one of these. It explores longer-term challenges in urgent and emergency healthcare delivery and offers radical and innovative solutions.


The Ambulance Service has changed significantly in recent years. Paramedics and nurses have received additional and advanced training to become Emergency Care Practitioners (ECPs), qualified to assess, treat and discharge patients with urgent care problems in their local community, rather than simply taking them to a hospital Accident and Emergency Department for treatment. Research shows that ECPs are effective in their new role, reducing hospital visits and achieving high levels of patient satisfaction.


However, the equipment used by this new professional group has not evolved to match its capabilities, so 21st century urgent care is being delivered by 21st century professionals using 20th century technologies. By improving the equipment, vehicles and communications available to the ECPs, urgent care delivery could become still more successful. By taking the treatment to the patient in this way, there is the potential to reduce the number of wasted journeys and the number of attendees at hospital A&E departments, whilst improving Patient Safety and the well-being of staff.


Smart Pods is a two-year project that will research and put forward a number of outline design options for a multi-level system to respond to a range of 999, GP and other calls, typically to treat soft tissue injuries, minor head injuries, elderly falls, chest pain and minor respiratory illness. The multi-level Smart Pods could include: vehicle/docking systems, treatment (vehicle) units for a range of defined services, and portable treatment packages of equipment and consumables. A standardised system will help paramedics to respond quickly and efficiently when faced with major emergencies, and simplify procurement for healthcare trusts.


Research Partners

Academic partners include the Royal College of Art, Loughborough University and the Universities of Bath, Plymouth and the West of England. Collaborating NHS partners include University Hospital Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospital Leicester NHS Foundation Trust, BrisDoc, Leicestershire County and Rutland Primary Care NHS Trust, Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust and East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust.



Pioneers09, Olympia, London, 4 March 2009

Healthcare on the Move, Royal College of Art, London, 6–8 April 2009

NHS Innovation Expo, ExCel, London, 18–19 June 2009


Visit the Smart Pods website


Mode of Production

London Design Festival, September 2007

"Exhibition and exclusive preview of a new book, Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals by Rob Thompson, published on 15th October 2007 by Thames & Hudson. The author has traveled to some of the most innovative factories in the world in search of exciting manufacturing case studies. This exhibition payed homage to the wealth of manufacturing heritage and expertise that the UK has to offer. Mode of Production showcased installations that demonstrate materials and manufacturing processes for designers, architects and engineers. Manufacturing in plastic, glass, ceramic, wood and metal will be included. Mode of Production was an opportunity to see how products are made, discover innovative materials and meet the manufacturers behind the processes."


Find out more about the exhibition here.


Download the full catalogue here.

Bikeoff Materials Resource

Design Against Crime, Innovation Centre

An online materials and manufacturing resource created in order to enable designers to get smart quick about the opportunities that materials offer. Knowledge about materials is essential to innovation in the 21st century, and innovative design in history has been led by astute focus on new materials and processes, or a rediscovery and recontextualisation of established materials and technologies.


Visit the online resource

TRS Ski Bag

Bolton Associates & Design Mall

A bag designed and engineered to accommodate skis/snowboard and boots simultaneously. Gold Award for Innovation, Swiss Salon International des Invention Geneva, 2005.


"A day out skiing or snowboarding inthe crisp mountain air on fresh powder snow is a sport people all over the world enjoy. In many countries they often catch the train to go out skiing for the day. However, having to lug both boots and skiis on the journey to the mountain can be a rather arduous and awkward activity.


"A young Korean designer, aware of this dilema, came up with an innovative concept for a rucksack that accomodates both skiis and boots. He was funded by the Korean Institute of Design Promotion to develop his idea. However, although it was a very innovative idea, it was not a workable concept. DMB International [Bolton Associates and Design Mall collaboration] stepped in to help translate the concept into a successful new product." (New Design Magazine, 2005).

MP3 Aqua

Bolton Associates & Design Mall

These concepts for an underwater MP3 player for professional swimmers were developed at Bolton Associates in London in collaboration with Design Mall in Seoul. These are 2D presentation renderings of the final models.


Each concept was based on detailed user research that identified the aspirations and motivations of professional swimmers. Features include a low-friction surface finish and ergonomic design for ease of use underwater.


Bolton Associates & Design Mall

‘European’ style flat-screen TV designed for the Asian market. This final production model shows the screen floating on an acrylic base. The screen and speakers are separated by two apertures.


The concept was conceived and developed at Bolton Associates, London, in collaboration with Design Mall, Seoul.

Functional and Emotional Confusion: Consumer Electronics

Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design

The purpose of this research project was to explore the interdependency of objects in relation to their functional and emotional qualities.  The project examined user perceptions of consumer products and their recognition of visual archetypes, and considered the role of new technologies in developing future archetypes.

Sustainable Design Scoping Research Project

Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design

A researh project that defined which consumer markets and product sectors will most readily accept new approaches to product architecture and new models of ownership and consumption. This was done in collaboration with industrial partners in order to provide relevant technological platforms.

Stacking Stool

Developed in collaboration with a racing car manufacturer, this batch produced stacking stool utilises fiber-reinforced plastics for maximum strength to weight.


"Stools may be simple objects but getting them just right is a tough task. London-based designer Rob Thompson ticks all the right boxes with his stools that stack, are incredibly light, well proportioned and, perhaps most importantly, come in a range of pretty colours. Thompson is now in the process of expanding the range to tables, benches and bar stools." (Wallpaper, 2003).

Material Memories

Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design

"Materials, memories, and our daily surroundings all influence the work of design Rob Thompson. His project Material Memories combines surface ageing, technology and our emotional bonding with products. The style and approach was heavily influenced by his experiences of growing up in Norfolk, England, in an Elizabethan, timber-frame cottage. By mixing 'experienced' materials (those available for resuse such as waste or something more personal) with plastic, he created a surface effect that will change over time as it is used. Taking advantage of the irregularities in the manufacturing process, each product is visually unique. Although mixing these materials inevitably makes the plastic used harder to recycle, the notion that product is meant to change with its owner over time, ideally creating an emotional bond, gives Material Memories an extended life span. In the end, the owner has a stool that is unmatched by any other and that will constantly evolve as the surface wears to expose more of its hidden materials." (Brower, Mallory and Ohlman, Experimental Eco Design, 2005)


Institute of Materials

The buttonbowl combines utility and practicality with safety, fun and playfulness. Children and parents alike can use it, play with it and store it in odd spaces, making the kitchen a more creative experience and adding to the vocabulary of new design.


Most plastic products that are used and abused degrade at a faster rate than porcelain. Once chewed or scratched it becomes unpleasant to eat and drink from them. The buttonrange challenges our perception of porcelain and offers an alternative to this traditional material. Children do not have the perception of adults and so are more willing to experiment with products such as the buttonbowls.


The buttonbowl won first prize in the Institute of Materials competition, 2001.