Part of the
Design United
TU DelftTU EindhovenUniversity of TwenteWageningen University
Design United


+31(0)6 48 27 55 61


Living Matter(s)
Miguel Bruns - Eindhoven University of Technology
About author
Editions 2020Living Matter(s)

The field of industrial design changes its perspective with every industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution was initiated by the invention of the steam engine and supported mechanisation of production. The second resulted from electricity and led to the mass production of goods. Electronics and information technology automised the production lines leading to the third revolution. And currently, developments in computer science and data analytics are driving connectivity and Artificial Intelligence resulting in the smart factories of the fourth industrial revolution.

The different industrial revolutions brought new goods and wealth to many people. However, we also observe the negative impact that mass production and consumption have on our planet. To counterbalance this trend, a fifth industrial revolution may soon emerge from developments in material science and biology. This revolution should not be led by machines or deplete our natural resources. It will be a revolution driven by natural phenomena, (micro-)organisms or materials that can grow and transform into new materials or products. It will bring materials and products that are alive, can change state, create novel experiences, die and become part of nature again. 

“…a fifth industrial revolution may soon emerge from developments in material science and biology.”
Miguel Bruns

Developments in smart materials and synthetic biology enable researchers to encode computational tasks into molecules and DNA, which may soon add a new perspective to the field of industrial design. In addition to mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, industrial designers will need to become acquainted with chemistry and biology. Already, they are exploring ways to co-design with nature e.g. by supporting the growth of fungi to develop vegan alternatives for fashion; taking care of the biosphere of bacteria to control their bio-luminescent behaviour; using reactive bio-based materials to support interactivity with edible materials; combining circular materials with digital manufacturing technologies and creating algorithms that seek a balance between natural growth and human intervention.

Over a century has passed since the most influential design programme opened its doors and defined the field of industrial design for many years. But, despite developments in electronics and computation, industrial designers have still focussed mainly on mechanically produced things, supporting their digital services, that do not change their physical properties over time. I believe that design and form will no longer be determined by qualities that remain static. The future of industrial design is dynamic and alive, and designers will need to move from a human-centred perspective on static form to a life-centred approach to interactive materiality.

Related projects
All projects