June 18, 2018 / Visual

Designing with Immaterial Materials

Time is a social construct. It is a commodity and also has movement. Yet its variable velocity has been considered by a number writers and poets. Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? Arguably, we could also attend to theories that belong to physics that time doesn’t exist at all. So what definition is real?

This question is echoed in Adam Becker’s recently published title ‘What is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics. Other existential investigations regarding physics have been published in new releases this year. Yet it was Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time that captured both our attention and imagination.

Rovelli accords that we still don’t know how time works. It is a great mystery, full of complexity.

Whilst our understanding of time is far from concrete, the medium can be a muse for design.

In May, Selfridges partnered with Google Pixel to bring forth an immersive art experience that set out to answer questions surrounding time. Entitled The Flipside, the experience simultaneously promoted the launch of the phone. The campaign featured under the umbrella of the department store’s Radical Luxury campaign.

Consumers were greeted by installation pieces; large circular black mirrors that, on the flipside carried citations from Henry Van Dyke’s The Sundial at Wells College. Perhaps most poignantly, a mirror read ‘one hour alone is in thy hands, the now on which the shadow stands’.

The consumer was then invited to reflect upon time throughout a series of stations curated by brands. This investigation resonates within surrealist thinking surrounding time in relation to consumption. The final station featured a sundial in which consumers could watch their shadow orbit them.

Time illustrates how designers have the capacity to design with an intangible construct to create thought-provoking spaces. This idea was echoed at Somerset House where Seoul-based studio, Kimchi and Chips launched Halo at the start of June.

Embracing natural light and the concept of drawing in the air, the installation explores fluctuations of sunlight across mirrors, inspiring guests to explore the relationship between image and reality.

What is compelling about these explorations of time in design is that they evoke the transient quality of the material. Last year, Hella Jongerius’s Breathing Colour at London’s Design Museum similarly educed this idea. The space was curated by time of day and explored the way light falls on a colour changes its hue.

As retail designers, we often speak of materials. But of course, materials we can’t see can define the impact, story and presence of a space. If we design with time in mind, we can create ephemeral moments.

Key Takeaways

Consider the intangible qualities of design within a retail space.

How can your retail space borrow from the world of art to foster empathy and connection?

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