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A combination of design, feel and function

Photo: Pia Kintrup

With furniture, we arrange our flats, express our style and perhaps even make a visual statement. But we don’t decide whether we like a table or a sofa based on their looks alone – feel and function also play a role. The challenge lies in combining all three factors. With his master’s project at Folkwang University, the bureau “Kabinett”, Tim zum Hoff has even succeeded in directly linking a tactile experience with a function – the bureau’s compartments are illuminated by brushing a hand gently across its surface.

The young designer already had the idea when he began his studies: “My research interest has always been focussed on touch and interaction”, explains zum Hoff, who currently engaged heavily with these subjects with the Experience and Interaction Design working group at the University of Siegen. He developed his understanding of tactile surfaces whilst working as a research assistant in the field of materials research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology (UMSICHT). “I was interested in how a designer can address the issue of touch through the quality of the material and a perfect surface finish”, relates zum Hoff. After all, to enjoy a tactile experience, the user must move his hand over a surface – if his hand doesn’t move, he is unable to perceive the feel of the surface.

Photo: Pia Kintrup

Zum Hoff therefore wanted to provide a function that would trigger a tactile experience. “The psychological motive behind this was that high-quality materials in particular provide the basis on which a product is perceived, which then has a powerful influence on how a product is experienced”, says the designer. Because the design of the bureau’s user interface is very important, zum Hoff decided to use elegant walnut veneer. The natural grain of the wood contrasts with the linear design of the piece, whereas its colour is in harmony with the lighting effect in the compartments.

The lighting control system is intended to encourage the user to stroke the veneer playfully and thereby illuminate objects, causing them to come to life. “On top of that, there is the experience enjoyed when switching on and off thanks to the softness of the light”, explains zum Hoff. “The reaction of the lighting to touch is intentionally slow and it brightens or dims when it is switched on or off. When put together with the objects and the veneer, this should create an attractive package. And an opportunity to consciously experience the material.”