Forward design thinking requires a constant dialogue between different fields of creativity. Specifically in digital design, we constantly draw inspiration from fields like fashion, interior design or architecture, and contribute back to the dialogue with our own interpretation and innovation. One of my favorite fields to draw inspiration from is the world of elements and materials and the meeting point between matter, human technology and design.

The way the digital world interprets the materials and elements in the physical world, and the design trends that we notice as a result of that interpretation, is ever intriguing. For instance, when colored glass made a comeback last year, it translated into web design through a play of see-through panels and layers. The black contour trend seen in furniture manufacturing or in different artistic mediums, like in the work of artist Joshua Vides, can be seen in websites through the return of stroke. This evergoing dialogue is the same one that made web design flat when materials went normcore, or brought back serif to typography when materials adopted maximalism.

Motion and mutation

This relationship between matter and technology is something that particularly grabbed my attention during the latest Salone del Mobile in Milan. The topic of environmental sustainability, and the concept of using technology advances to come up with new materials that serve a new function in our lives, could not be avoided. What specifically caught my attention was Mutant Matter, an exhibition by the experimental design collective Dutch Invertuals in collaboration with FranklinTill Studio. It introduced the idea of the Anthropocene Era, a new geological age where man-made materials are being written into soil as waste and mutate into new substances. That new type of matter is something we see more and more in web design, specifically with 3D animation where the play between real and digital deepens.

Softwares like Cinema 4D have made it simpler for designers to create within 3D and construct new digital materials. With major improvements throughout the recent years in new tools and render engine quality, capabilities and speed, it’s easier to see your design as it evolves in real-time, even while you continue to work on it. This leads to a better learning curve and as a result, better design abilities. That’s when textures and materials start looking like a new type of matter, like something supernatural.

Creating new materiality in 3D motion design
Graphic Motion Design from Wix Playground by Hezi Jacob, Guy Levin and Eliraz Dekalo

This example from C A T K studio in Berlin can be used as a good starting point to take the idea of mutant matter one step forward. The ocean conservation movement Sea Shepherd’s latest campaign, is a more recent and coherent example of that type of new matter. Their ad features a fluid vinyl-looking ocean, at times seeming like a silky fabric, as it stretches to form the shape of sea creatures. The colors reference anodized titanium with the unicorn gradient effect, and the play with lights makes it all a bit extraterrestrial.

C A T K Studio for Red Bull

The Plastic Ocean by Sea Shepherd

These examples mark the beginning of a new era in 3D for designers, and the options we have to push online design forward are almost unlimited. We’ve seen amazing creativity with rigid materials such as marble, gold or stone – like in The Artery’s exquisite website – leading me to believe that we will start seeing more materials with infinite particles having better flow and movement. Textures like fabric, sand and water, all mixed together into a new type of digital matter. I believe this will be seen on websites with 3D homepages or with hover effects that mimic this behavior, but I also think this trend will only grow and develop into new and interesting places in the upcoming year. Check out the Nike Reactor website if you’re looking for more inspiration.

A second Renaissance

From quite the opposite side of technological advances, a reminiscence to the Renaissance Era has been present for the past year in various fields of design. It started with Arthocollective and their specific aesthetic of art-filled selfies and collages, and it continued to photography with a mix of real and painted layers. Then big brands like Gucci launched their spring/summer collection website, made by Spanish illustrator Ignasi Monreal, which referred directly to paintings from the Renaissance Era with a direct homage to artist Jan Van Eyck and Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”. Nike and their Art of a Champion campaign has sneakers positioned in the style of high Renaissance in Italy, floating gracefully next to an elegantly draped cloth; and fashion designer Virgil Abloh put the Mona Lisa herself on a pair of sweatpants for Off-White.

This wave of classical art puts the focus on oil paint, if not by actual material then by its effect and inspiration. You can see this trend through the many apps that turn your photos into work of arts, and an experiment by Google Arts and Culture that takes your selfie and matches it with a portrait from a renowned museum.

Search art with your Selfie: A Google Arts & Culture Experiment

In digital design this style is already being embraced, but will expand to more than just a literal reference to the classical art period. The work of Ignasi Monreal marks a future of old and new incorporated into a fresh aesthetic. Of course in this materiality case as well, it’s more intuitive for a 3D artist to attempt interpretation. Artist Boldtron, for instance, is giving his take on the new classics using elements of oil paintings with a modern texture, or combining sculpture models with 3D art.

 @boldtron for @De=ream_magazine

Artist @boldtron for @etniabarecelona in an homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine

The type of work Art Attack is doing on YouTube with Google’s Tilt Brush, recreating classical art as a 3D environment, is introducing new players to the digital playground of material inspiration. The recreation of Botticelli’s The birth of Venus as VR is a step closer to utilizing the texture and feel of brush strokes and layers to deliver an immersive experience of art. Once more, this meeting point between ancient, futuristic and the human mind push digital design limits to greater creativity.

Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” recreated in Virtual Reality