Selection of Materials and Components

Selection of Materials and Components


When choosing a material to manufacture a product functionality is vital. How well it does the job has to be considered whilst designing every product. Designers need to be aware of a whole range of material properties. For instance, you wouldn’t choose chipboard for outdoor furniture as it would swell and disintegrate in the rain. How easy a product is to work with is also a consideration, for instance card is easier to fold and more stable than paper when making packaging.


Selection of Materials and Components, figure 1

How something looks is what aesthetics is all about. What colour does your product need to be? Should it be shiny or matt? Smooth or textured? A surface finish can be added to most materials to change its colour and texture. Natural finishes can also make something more aesthetically pleasing, waxing and varnishing wood leaves the grain visible but smooth. Designers have to make sure they are designing for their target market, different people have very different taste so the aesthetic would have to be carefully analysed.

Environmental factors:

It is becoming more and more vital that environmental factors are considered throughout the design process. There are various ways that materials can be selected for their environmental impact:

  • Is the material renewable? (like softwood and cotton)

  • Can it be biodegradable when disposed of? (Card or wood)

  • Can the material be recycled (like thermoplastics)?

  • Can parts be changed when worn out or reused as something else? (Wooden furniture)


Considering how easy it is to get hold of materials is also a design factor. Widely available materials are cheaper, quicker to get delivered and easy to get exactly what you want. Rarer materials (such as slow growing hardwoods) are expensive, difficult to find and generally worse for the environment.


Selection of Materials and Components, figure 2

When designing you have to consider how much material you will need and how much it costs. The price of your end product will depend on the cost of each part. A product which aims to be cheap to buy will have to be made out of cheap materials. The more of a product you produce the cheaper you can buy materials. A supplier will negotiate a better price for more raw materials bought. As a designer you may choose to create a product using the best quality materials which would cost more. (See mass, batch and one off production)

Social factors:

As with environmental design it is important to consider factors which affect us and the world around us.

  • Has the material we use been sourced from a renewable supply?

  • Have the farmers, processers and factory workers been treated fairly (Fairtrade)?

  • Have the raw materials been processed without causing environmental damage?

Cultural factors When designing for specific people you may have to consider what is seen as appropriate by them, for instance in some countries clothing would have to cover the shoulders and legs. Sensitivity to cultural beliefs has to be considered in your designs.

__Ethical factors __– Ethical design would include Fairtrade materials, using renewable products from sustainable sources and not using products made from animals, such as fur and ivory.