Second Skins

Tomorrow’s surface materials promise a host of useful—and unusual—innovations.

At the Senseware exhibition in Tokyo and Paris last year, curator Kenya Hara paired manufacturers and designers with some of Japan’s most interesting industrial textiles. Media artist Toshio Iwai designed clothes using Ultra water-repellant fabric, while Epson showed the possibilities of printing on Super-Organza, one of the thinnest and lightest fabrics on the market today. But the star of the show was Sony’s “Little TV That Rest in Your Hand,” a prototype television whose exterior is made of soft fabric, creating an electronic device so cute that you might be tempted to cuddle up next to it.

The next generation of surface materials, whether synthetic or composite, is only getting stronger, lighter, more durable, and more environmentally friendly. Conventional materials like steel are being enhanced in products such as Hybrix, which weighs half as much as stainless steel but is strong and easily moldable. Meanwhile, companies like Danzer are reusing wood scraps to create superthin veneers that can be curved, folded, and laser-cut into just about any shape. Some of the most interesting surfaces also offer a smart component. Timestrip disposable labels, for example, use membrane technology to warn consumers when a product has reached its expiration date. The surfaces, textures, and products shown here are a vision of material applications to come, offering designers new possibilities for creative interaction.

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