CRIM Framework

The overview

This framework aims to Communicate Radically Innovative Materials and as a result, is referred to by the acronym ‘CRIM’. Its goal is to enable material communicators to share radical innovations in materials to designers in a manner that enables those designers to build the materials into their design process. This allows the designers to not only create more ideas but also to create consistently feasible concepts. The framework does this through five steps.

  1. Identify
  2. Core Communications
  3. Extra Details
  4. Collate
  5. Review and evaluate

By following the framework, the user should be able to generate a communication that is effective at communicating the material’s radical innovation. This includes a short three-part statement, supported by additional information.

CRIM has been shown in tests to improve the comprehension of radical materials properties over the current methods in use by material libraries and materials producers. Prior methods were found to have over half designers fail to understand the material (52% failed). With 10% of all designers critically failing to understand the material at all. In testing, CRIM shows that 80% of designers understand the material with only a brief introduction. And, only 6% of designers critically fail to understand a material’s function.

Step 1 – Identify

Radical innovations differ greatly but can be grouped into larger catergories based on a handful of attributes. Knowing a materials catergory can help in the next step of building the communication as it gives insight as to what is the best strategy to communicate those materials.

Before engaging in this step though it is important to for the material communicator to understand what the materials radical innovation is and if this is a multitude of different attributes or a single attribute. Once the attributes are understood (this is something the material communicator must do and cannot be aided by this research,) each attribute must be assessed using the following criteria.

Step 2 – Core communications

Once the innovation is understood the three steps of the core communication can be produced. These three tools work together to efficiently communicate the materials innovative property.

While each tool is important, and all three should be produced, Step 1 should have also provided an understanding of which tools are most important for the particular innovation. The tools highlighted should be the focus of the communication, as they will be what designers look to, to understand the material

Stage 1 – subjective stage

The subjective stage aims to set the scene, it uses emotive and uncomplicated language to bring attention to the material’s innovative property. This allows the next two stages to expand on this information providing more detail. It can also be used to add extra details to a comparison which might otherwise not be able to build them in.

Subjective terms can be used in two ways, either as a statement with a quantifier and then an adjective. This creates statements such as ‘very strong.’ This is because with a quantifier it is easy to add emphasis, which draws attention, to important material quality. The other method is to just use an adjective, such as ‘red’. This method is better when the mate-rial quality isn’t as important, or if the material property is just being added to help visualise the material.

Stage 2 – Comparison stage

Comparison is the most important tool for accurate communication when using CRIM. There are several different ways to use comparison. Each method can guide how to phrase the explanation. However, they do not cover what to compare to. The box below contains additional information on these different approaches.

“It is like X.”

Advantages: Using a direct comparison to another material with an almost identical quality is one of the best ways to communicate a material property or an overall similarity to a material type.

Disadvantages: The limitation of direct comparison is that the material must be directly comparable. If there is no old material that offers an exact match to the material, then this option will not be viable.

How the comparison is used in practice: Select a material with similar properties to the innovation. The exact property doesn’t have to be the same if you have found the closest material and can think of no other materials with a much closer property which are relevant. However, make sure to pick materials that designers are likely to have encountered either professionally or in their every-day lives. It’s of higher priority that you pick a material that they are likely to know than pick a material that is unknown but a perfect comparison. If no materials present themselves, look to the ‘Direct comparison with the numerical qualifier’ method.

Example: BrightGreen looks identical to normal moss.

“It has the qualities of X but with Y property improved/removed/added.”

Advantages: This method is useful to communicate innovations materials the designers might know or the creation of a new material that is like an old material but with added properties.

Disadvantages: The issue with this form of comparison is that there must be a relevant material for designers to use as the base. In addition, if there are other significant differences between the base and target other than those highlighted in this comparison, then this method risks confusing the designers and hiding those changes.

How the comparison is used in practice: First pick a base material (X). This is what those listening to the comparison will base their under-standing off. If this is an innovation to existing material base it off that one. Otherwise use a material that is very similar apart from in the innovation you wish to highlight with Y. Y is the innovation you want to bring attention to, so whatever property has been changed this is then communicated in place of Y.

Example: This plastic is as strong as mild steel but weighs considerably less.

“This has the qualities of X but with half/quadruple/33% less/100% more (Using any amount) of Y”

Advantages: Using a property with a numerical qualifier is useful in many situations. It’s best used when an existing material is innovated but it can also be used for new materials that have strong similarities to other materials but aren’t identical.

Disadvantages: Designers expect this comparison to be accurate to the abilities of the material. If the material is stated to be ‘twice as strong’ as other designers expect that to reflect objective measurements of the qualities of the material. Not being accurate can lead to frustration amongst designers.

How the comparison is used in practice: The exact property doesn’t have to be the same, as long as you have found the closest material and can think of no other materials with a much closer property. However, make sure to pick materials that designers are likely to have encountered either professionally or in their everyday lives. It’s of higher priority that you pick a material that they are likely to know than pick a material that is unknown but a perfect comparison. If no materials present themselves, look to the ‘Direct com-parison with the numerical qualifier’ method.

Example: This lifocork can be moulded the same as regular silicone but uses only a fifth of the plastic of solid silicone.

“It’s got the property of X but it’s also like Y.”

Advantages: Stacked comparisons allow for a collection of comparisons to be assembled to create a more comprehensive view of the material being communicated. It is particularly useful if the material is innovation is complex and has different facets.

Disadvantages: By combining the different comparisons the is a risk that the overall message will become confused.

How the comparison is used in practice: The stacked comparison brings together other comparisons outlined in this document. It appeals to designers as it allows multiple reliable comparisons to be brought together into a cohesive whole, adding a much greater deal of complexity to the communication. When creating this communication though the are several considerations that must be taken into account.

  • The goal of the comparison must be clearly defined, it should be obvious to the reader what attributes the target and base have in common. This means that the communication should clearly highlight the attribute being transferred between base and target.
  • Both the subjective and contextual communications need to focus on supporting the aspects featured in the comparison, without if they only feature one aspect of the stacked comparison this can lead to a communication failure.
  • Keep the language as consistent as possible, if using one direct comparison, try and use another if possible.

Example: Faraday film is conductive like copper but is also transparent like glass.

To assess the two different elements, they must be mapped into how each concept functions and then the two can be compared. This does mean that a specific element of creative thinking from the modeller is required; it is not possible to map every possible base and then compare it to a target. Those creating the analogy are expected to use their intuition to select two systems that appear close and then evaluate how effective an analogy between the two may be using these tools.

The first step in creating an analogy is to map the target as this is a known quantity that will not change. Mapping the target first can also help guide the intuitive selection of the base.

Mapping concepts

The process of mapping concepts asks that they are broken down into a series of objects, relationships and attributes. To start mapping a concept, the target must be chosen and then broken down into its components.

Objects are the different components in the system. They do not need to be physically separate entities, as seen in this example, the first object is the material in its soft state and the second the material in its solid-state. The different objects in the system have to be connected to each other through some form of interaction, called a relationship.

Relationships are the connections between two or more objects. They often represent a force; someway one object acts upon another. They can equally represent a change that is invoked in an object by another object. These relationships are perhaps the most crucial element of the analogy as they often describe the systems change, providing the information the analogy was created to convey.

Attributes are the physical properties of the objects. They are the least important part of the analogy but must be included to ensure they do not cause confusion when used in the analogy. As analogies often have no aesthetic resemblance between the base and target, many attributes are immediately discounted as not being similar.

Sometimes though this overlap of content must be looked at if the two systems share aesthetic similarities that could confuse the analogy. An excellent example of this is in a classic science analogy of a nucleus (target) being like the solar system(base). A solar system has a large body (sun) in the centre which due to gravity means smaller bodies (planets) orbit it. An atom has a large central body (nucleus) that due to its charge, causes smaller bodies(electrons) to orbit it.
While the relationships are the same, some attributes could be confused to be affecting the system. Looking at the base those who understand gravity know that the size of the central body is directly connected to its ability to affect the smaller bodies. This not the same for the nucleus its size has is not the reason it attracts electrons.

Inconsistencies like these need to be identified and clarified as part of the analogy so as not to confuse those using it. This can be as simple as stating that the similarities in scale are incidental and are not be considered as part of the analogy.

Evaluating the comparison

The structure of the objects and relationships should appear in a similar fashion; this perhaps the most prominent issue. If for instance, a base has an object A with relationships with object B and object C and the target has relationships between object A and object C but not between object B the structure doesn’t line. This shows a clear sign that the analogy won’t work as the interactions are not similar.

The clarity comes from how effectively the base and target map to each other. Perfectly clarity has a similar number of objects connected by a similar number of relationships. This is often not the case with the target or base having unique relationships or objects that don’t map, these don’t necessarily ruin the analogy if the most of the elements of the target are similar enough to create a direct map. It does, however lower clarity and can confuse the analogy.

The richness of the map is how much of the analogy maps. If only the core aspects map and there are other elements of the target which are not covered wholly, then there is a lack of richness. The ideal situation is to have the whole of the system accurately map to the other, matching all the relationships and objects of the target to the base. This can be rare though, so if two potential bases are available that map correctly, the one that is richer that should be the preferred option.

This process was adapted from the work of Genter

Stage 3 – Contextual stage

The contextual communication stage capitalises on designer’s ability to infer what material properties are required in materials used by specific products. When a material is labelled as an appropriate material for specific scenario designers’ will be able to expand their mental model of that material.

This serves two purposes, both informing designers but also allowing them to check that the understanding they have already gained is correct.

Step 3 – Identify

With the three-step communication in place, it is important to flesh out the other details of the communication. These include what larger material category the material belongs to and the other attributes the material has.

This step is important as designers do not see materials as existing in isolation. Many designers look to materials they know to understand materials they do not, providing this information as well as a summary of the materials other attributes not only allows the designer to better understand the material but also helps them explore how they can apply the new material in the future.

As part of the communication, the group the material belongs to should be communicated. This is not a detailed outline of the materials specific classification but more connecting the material to the larger branch of materials it belongs to. The purpose is to give designers an understanding of how the material might behave. Examples of these categories include, Steel, Thermoplastics, Hardwoods, Smart Materials.

The limitations of materials abilities is something that must be communicated to enable designers to accurately use the material. To achieve this there are two methods.

Clarify within existing communication

When either the subjective or comparison tools are being written the limitation must be explicitly added to the communication. This may involve naming the specific limitation of the material as part of that communication. An example of this type of clarification is below.

Photochromic ink has the ability to change colour when exposed to sunlight. It gradually shifts from one colour to another. It cannot change between more than these two colours.

An example of a three-point communication without limitations clarified.
Photochromic ink changes colour when exposed to the UV light, similar to skin becoming sunburnt, it works well in anti-counterfeiting applications by hiding UV sensitive data.

An example of a three-point communication with clarity.
Photochromic ink changes from one colour to another when exposed to the UV light, similar to skin becoming sunburnt before rapidly changing back, it works well in anti-counterfeiting applications by hiding UV sensitive data.

Add detail

The other approach to communicating limitations is in adding additional information to the comparison component of the communication. Adding extra details should build on the comparison or analogy being used rather than adding a separate step to the communication. This can be enabled for smart material by expanding and carefully considering the analogy being used.

An example of a three-point communication without added detail.
D3O is a rubbery plastic that gets more rigid the harder it gets hit. The reaction is like falling into the water at low speeds the water moves around you but at high speeds, the water feels more solid. D3O works well in making flexible and protective clothing for sports like snowboarding.

An example of a three-point communication with added detail.
D3O is a rubbery plastic that gets more rigid the harder it gets hit. The reaction is like falling into water at low speeds the water moves around you but at high speeds the water feels more solid, like water this resistance can be overcome by either, moving so fast the water is blasted out of the way or by diving, allowing you to cut through the water. D3O works well in making flexible and protective clothing for sports like snowboarding.

The final step in assembling the material communication is to populate the other aspects of what the material can achieve. While this is not the focus of the framework it is essential to designers to understand the wider material. The full page can be found at the end of this document. It is not essential to fill in every box if the particular attribute does not apply to the material in question but it should be completed in as great a detail as is feasible. Examples of a completed page can also be found to show how best to complete the document.


The final stage is to bring the different elements together. The three-part communication and other details need to be collected and reviewed as a whole. The goals of this combined review is to ensure that as a collected whole the communication makes sense and that the communication is ready to be distributed to designers.

Bring together different elements

The first step is to bring together the different elements. The method for doing this can be found on the last page of this document.
This collected document should include:

  • The material three-step communication
  • The materials catergory
  • The materials additional attributes


Check for clarity, consistency and relevance

While the review and evaluation element of the framework should help to keep an eye on if the communication is effective, it is important to review the communication now it is whole. The benefit of reviewing at this stage is that each element of the communication can be checked to see if clarity, consistency and relevance have been maintained. It is important to check that the different elements don’t appear to contradict each other and that the language and examples used to build on each other.


Review with designers

The draft version of the communication is now ready. Before circulating it the final copy should be shared with a range of designers who have limited knowledge of the material. This step ensures that the language used will be suitable for them and allows the communication to be tested. It is important at this stage to ask designers what they could create from the material. This challenge will allow the communication to be assessed if the designers can reliably create feasible concepts the communication is effective, if it can’t designers should be interviewed to understand where the communication failed. The changes can then be implemented to help the designers understand the material better. This step can then be repeated until the communication is effective enough that most designers can use to create feasible designs from it.


Review and Evaluation

While producing the communication it is important to constantly review and evaluate the text being produced. The are three main attributes that communication must have to be effective. These attributes are clarity, relevance, and consistency.

What is essential is to spend this review period checking in with designers to ensure that the communicator’s understanding of clarity, relevance and consistency is the same as the designers view on these topics.

Assess if communication is clear

To create a meaningful communication, the content must be clear in how it communicates. Clarity requires that the communications be accurate to the concept being explored, contain the information necessary for that communication to be accurate and to not contain confusing or ambiguous references.



Assess if communication is relevant

Creating meaningful communications is best supported by ensuring that the content used to communicate the target material is relevant to designers. Relevance is found through ensuring examples and concepts connect with those that designers recognize and ideally are interested in. The more relevant the concepts used the more likely designers are to take an interest in them and be able to apply past knowledge.
To gain an understanding of what is relevant to designers it is best to speak to them and explore with a variety of designers what they are interested in how great of an understanding they have for the communications that are being produced through the framework.


Assess if communication is consistent

All the elements generated by the framework should complement each other while not being purely repetitions of the same information. Concepts that do not appear linked to each other, either by their approximate nature or their use can sow confusion in the minds of designers.
This is most important when considering comparisons and context. If the elements that comparison and context are using as reference points are so unrelated as to not have a clear connection this can cause issues for the designer as the contextual communication is meant to serve as a way for them to assess how they’ve understood the rest of the communication. In best practice, this means, for example, that comparisons which reference the hardness of material should be followed by contextual examples clearly showcasing hardness.