Soft Products: Smart Fabrics in Product Design

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


A definition of ‘soft products’ is proposed: products designed by a product designer which traditionally would be made from hard materials, but have a substantial component constructed in fabric. As such, soft products are distinct from furniture design and the design of accessories by fashion designers–and from ‘wearables’, a field that continues to attract more attention and development. New fabrics with increased performance or added functionality have allowed product designers to consider new uses for textiles. Smart fabrics (with embedded electronic capability) have enabled ‘soft products’ to become realities. The Logitech KeyCase soft keyboard enabled by Eleksen’s ElekTex fabric is one of the most significant ‘soft products’ that has made it to market, where the fabric has dramatically changed the functionality of the object. Beyond the rolling facility though, the keyboard has all the usual functionality of a keyboard and is styled to have the aesthetic language of a ‘gadget’. This keyboard can be starkly contrasted with the original range of products that were developed by IDEO for the launch of the ElekTex technology. This project, entitled ‘Fabrications’, was speculative with the ambition of promoting the possibilities of the technology rather than developing market-ready solutions. Why have smart fabrics not begun to form a bigger part of the product designer’s palette of materials and to revolutionise the way we design products? In this paper, the author explores this question by reviewing the landscape of smart fabrics currently available, discussing their relevance to product design, reflecting on the Fabrications project, contrasting cultural values in product and fashion design and describing a pioneering module with undergraduate product design students.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSmart Design
Subtitle of host publicationFirst International Conference Proceedings
EditorsPhilip Breedon
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9781447129752
ISBN (Print)9781447129745
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011
Event1st International Conference on Smart Design - Nottingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Nov 201124 Nov 2011


Conference1st International Conference on Smart Design
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • soft products
  • smart fabrics
  • IDEO
  • Eleksen

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