Sugru is a simple silicone substance that makes it easy to alter, add to and repair stuff. We spoke to its inventor, RCA graduate Jane ní Dhulchaointigh, who told us about how the material allows people to "hack" design.
Icon Basically, what is Sugru?
JD It's a silicone compound ... it comes in an airtight pack and when it comes out it reacts with the air and hardens into flexible silicone. So it doesn't get hard like clay, it stays flexible and a bit rubbery.
Icon Is it useful mostly for repairs?
JD Mainly for adapting and modifying – the idea is to get people who are not designers to think how their products can be different for them and how they could improve them. So the whole idea is opening up who's involved in the design process, and that's where the whole hacking and modification culture comes from.
Icon Can you give me an example?
JD Well, for example, it's very practical kind of things like tools, if they're uncomfortable people can make them softer, more comfortable for them, or bike handlebars – there are loads of examples on the website.
Icon And it's useful for repairs as well.
JD Yeah – it's very closely combined, the idea of modifying and the idea of repairing. The same people who are interested in adapting things are interested in making things last and repairing things. It's a very interesting thing, actually, because it's something that isn't really designed for any more – it's quite hard to take things apart and get spare parts. It's an interesting area and more and more people are talking about it. I don't know if you've come across Platform 21 in Holland ... they did a whole thing last year called the repair manifesto, which was tenets about how designers should think about repairs, and it generated a lot of discussion.
Icon Do you see Sugru as ultimately changing the way people design?
JD No – Sugru comes from a different perspective, it's very much from the end-users' perspective. It's preparing the end user to retro-modify things.
Icon Is it on sale now?
JD It went on sale at the start of December. We set up our own production and made a batch for sale, a sort of prototype mass production. And we didn't know it would be half as popular as it was – we made a thousand packs thinking "oh, it would be quite nice to sell those in December", and we sold out in six hours from our website. So we're rapidly taking on investment to scale up our production.
Icon The reaction to Sugru has been extraordinary – it has been reported widely, and the response has been very positive. How has that success been for you?
JD It's amazing – I've been working on this for, like, six years ... it started as a college project, when I was studying design at the RCA, and I had a lot of support at the time for the idea. It's quite a simple idea, very practical, and it's quite easy to see it and say "that makes sense", but between that and getting it out on the market has involved so much lab work and raising funding ... it's gone really far away from the end user and the idea in terms of what I had I had to do in implementation, patenting, financing ... so it's really brilliant to bring it out the other end and see people use it and be enthusiastic about it the way I hoped they would at the beginning.
Icon So what's next for the project?
JD Scaling up the manufacturing, which we're doing at the moment – we're buying the machinery and finding partners to work with for the packaging and postage and all that. I think the internet is good, it's a huge opportunity as a small company – it's very empowering to be able to connect directly to people's enthusiasm and to deal with a community of people with shared values and motivations. The internet is brilliant for that, everyone has a voice. So we want to grow the business primarily online, selling direct to customers, and from that hopefully we'll grow to being a household product sold in hardware stores.
Icon Sugru means "play" in Irish, but most of the uses you cite for the product are very practical and sensible – do you see it also have an more playful side?
JD There's a lot of problem-solving in how you use it, but I think the type of person who uses it has a playful attitude towards their stuff. It's a sort of attitude where you think "well, I know better than who made this for me" – that's a kind of playful attitude. Not saying it's just for fun, it's a practical thing, but it's a way of looking at things.
Web link: www.sugru.com