NBH featured in the first issue of Tomorrow Magazine. Words by Rob Alderson and Henrietta Thompson.

Nelly Ben Hayoun is an experiential designer and tutor on the Material Futures course at Central Saint Martins. She has been described before as the Willy Wonka of design and identifies three main trends that are driving the development of new or modified materials. Firstly there is the “exponential need for WiFi connectivity” and a drive to create materials to make them responsive to this kind of technology. She mentions Nest, recently bought by Google, which “reinvents unloved but important home products.” Its smart thermostat, which can be controlled remotely, is a good example of how wireless technology originally invented for military ends—controlling a drone say—is “evolving into our everyday lives and into our homes.”
The second shift will be in the field of synthetic biology, adapting and growing organic materials to play different roles in our domestic settings. “We are looking at how you can engineer the living into your home so these materials can respond best to your needs; or even needs that you don’t know you have yet,” Ben Hayoun says. The scientific progress has been remarkable in this field—Ben Hayoun’s CSM colleague Amy Congdon, who works at the intersection of textiles and tissue engineering, thinks these products could come to market in the next decade. But bioethics needs to catch up.
“We are not that far away — people are doing this in their garages — but we’re talking about engineering living organisms and you can’t do that without proper policy.”

The third main trend Nelly expects to impact on the way we live our lives will be the rise of virtual reality, which will revolutionise services like Skype and connect us on a much more experiential level.
Each of these developments will necessitate designers and scientists working in close concert. It’s no good, she points out, to bring designers in at the last minute. “You go back to Steve Jobs and the visionary way he embedded design into the development of Apple technology right from the start,” she says. “The two of them work together. It always goes back to why. Why do you want to use this technology in the first place? What are you trying to achieve?”
“The technology shouldn’t drive the concept; it should be the other way round. ‘e concept should generate the technology and it should always go this way.” It’s important in this brave new world for designers to stand up for their visions and not be overawed by science and technology. “For me, a collaboration between the scientist and the designer will not work if it’s a polite collaboration. There should be conflict with both sides passionate about what they believe in. If it’s just the designer saying, ‘You’ve done incredible work,’ and the scientist saying, ‘You’ve done great drawings’ then it won’t go anywhere.”
“When it comes to innovation and concept-making, London is much brighter in terms of critical thinking. We are much more about the ‘why’ than the ‘how’. There is something very fresh about the ideas that are being developed here.”
And she believes London is the perfect place for this new collaborative spirit to really develop. “You see more and more of the Silicon Valley companies coming into the UK because I think there is something very special here.”

“When it comes to innovation and concept-making, London is much brighter in terms of critical thinking. We are much more about the ‘why’ than the ‘how’. There is something very fresh about the ideas that are being developed here.”