Illusory Material searches for virtual intimacy in the physical reality

The team of Illusory Material is interested in revitalizing and broadening the concept of “reality.” They believe that perceived realism constantly changes as technology advances and that digital and physical realities are adapting.

Illusory Material searches for virtual intimacy in the physical reality, manifesting in interactive spaces, materials, or designs at various scales. Their mission is to develop revolutionary new techniques for designers to approach design without the constraints of the status quo.

Pushing the limits of traditional design methods - Illusory Material

According to the team, “Our mission is to experiment in both digital and physical worlds; to push past the limitations of traditional design and remove the need to simply replicate materials that already exist; to break down design medium into ‘matters,’ restructuring and reinventing materiality to create unique expressions, forms, properties, and experiences.”

Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng created 3D-printed textiles by combining tiny optical lenses and colored resins to create dynamic physical materials. This “dream-like” material with unique expressions was previously only available in the digital world and cannot be produced using traditional manufacturing methods. The computational workflow they designed can be applied to any shape and surface, ushering in a new era of interactive CMF without needing electrical input.

Pushing the limits of traditional design methods - Illusory Material
Pushing the limits of traditional design methods - Illusory Material

They propose, with Illusory Material, to overcome surface limitations in object and industrial design by adding another dimension to the material interface. They introduce a new material organization that responds directly to user intervention and the environment by embedding information into three-dimensional matter (voxel). Designers can manipulate material down to the meta-level with voxel 3D printing, creating shifting patterns, interactive written content, and even touch-sensitive visual effects. It is the team’s future experience design vision: energy efficient, playful, dynamic, and highly customizable.

Also, the research won awards such as TIME’s Best Inventions 2021, IF Design Award, Winner in “Discipline: Product”; International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), Silver Winner; Design Intelligence Award, Gold Winner; Fast Company Innovation by Design 2020, winner in the “Experimental” category.

Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng founded and direct Illusory Material. Yunyi Zhu conducted research in lenticular 3D printing at MIT under the supervision of Professors Axel Kilian and Stefanie Mueller.

Pushing the limits of traditional design methods - Illusory Material

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