Material Experiments

Material driven design

Material Experiments

Material driven design

—— 01. THE BRIEF

Materials mediate our experience of the world, and everything we interact with and that surrounds us is rich in material properties.

Material experience involves sensory engagement through sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, but it also involves engagement with meaning (what the material makes us think) and emotion (what the material makes us feel). Engaging with people’s experiences of materials allows designers to understand how these materials can drive the creation of new experiences.

This project explored how design can be driven by material experiences and theories that relate to this. Throughout the project, I created a series of experiments with a chosen waste material and evaluate the experiential qualities of these experiments based on user feedback.



Onion skin is a household waste material producing over 500,000 tonnes of yearly waste in Europe alone.

My chosen waste material is onion skin. As a material it is widely accessible, yet often disposed of or added to a compost heap after being peeled off an onion.


Throughout this project I experimented with the properties of onion skin, producing a series of exploratory samples. As the material is novel, my aim was to discover meaningful applications for these samples through user testing, where meanings and experiences can be elicited. I applied a range of different processes to my material in order to do this, such as compressing, blending, mixing and compounding it with other materials.


The experiential potential of these experiments where then tested by gathering user feedback on the qualities of each of these samples.


The outcome for this two week project was a series of material explorations with different sensorial properties, using my chosen medium of onion skin. 

I analysed both user feedback and the materials in order to create a description for each sample, and proposed possible applications or uses for each material sample; the outcome of which was a materials catalogue.






Selected samples and uses



The delicateness of this sample made it difficult to work with. It could be improved for strength, or embraced as a fragile, aesthetically pleasing material - as suggested through user testing.

  • Paper
  • Decorative designs



Users were intigued by the layers of this sample, wanting to open them and see what's inside. This could be amplified to enhance the opening and revealing of a contained object in a playful way.

  • Container
  • Wrapper
  • Container
  • Wrapper



Strength and resistance were the strongest attributes of this material. One user suggested this material would be useful for shoe soles. Its durability and "synthetic" appearence could work in favour of replacing similar materials.

  • Leather alternative
  • Shoe soles



The appearence of this material was the greatest strength when user testing. Its flexibility could be used as an advantage, or it could be developed into a solid, harder and ever thicker material for household surfaces, such as counter tops.

  • Bags
  • Leather alternative
  • Placemats
  • Marble alternatives
  • Counter tops
  • Chopping board



The best feature of this sample according to user feedback were the sounds it produced when tapped. It's a strong, light material with a sense of "summer" and "nature". This could be amplifed to produce organic decorations.

  • Scented stressball



This sample was described to make users feel "curious" and "playful". Users found it satisfying to squeeze and were surprised with the scent. This experience could enhance emotional situations.

  • Paper
  • Decorative designs

Supporting documents

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© Jake Cohen 2021. All rights reserved.

© Jake Cohen 2019. All rights reserved.

© Jake Cohen 2019.
All rights reserved.

© Jake Cohen 2019. All rights reserved.

© Jake Cohen 2021.
All rights reserved.