Eastman Chemical Co.'s specialty plastics business caught the design bug in the summer of 2001, and Gaylon White is doing his best to make sure it spreads. White, an 11-year Eastman veteran, is business promotions manager and resident industrial-design evangelist for that unit of the Kingsport, Tenn., chemicals giant.
Buddy Bounds, director of that operation, said, ``Gaylon got us to see ... that there's a group of people that we hadn't communicated our message to.'' Bounds said he felt Eastman did a reasonably good job of getting word about its resins to the primary partners in its value chain. But he admitted the firm ``didn't have a good story'' for this key, untapped constituency of product developers and materials specifiers called designers.
At White's urging, Eastman two years ago became a dues-paying patron of the 3,300-member Industrial Designers Society of America trade association. Through the Dulles, Va.-based IDSA, Eastman has become very engaged in both the student and professional design communities. Its recent, intensive eyewear project with IDEO Product Development is only one of a series of efforts that the traditionally conservative company has made to raise its profile in creative circles.
In October 2001, Eastman sponsored a reception for IDSA at the International Council of the Societies of Industrial Designers Congress in Seoul, South Korea. Its efforts played a key role in helping IDSA to secure a bid to bring the ICSID Congress to San Francisco in 2007. White said Eastman supported IDSA's bid primarily to have the opportunity to work with leading design firms and to quickly expand its contacts in this community. That it has done.
Eastman recently sponsored a term project by students at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga., to develop a ``clear office furniture concept'' using several of the firm's polymers. It also sponsored a student design project at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., related to developing new hand tools, such as screwdrivers, using its Tenite cellulosics.
Professionally, the materials maker is working with well-known British designer Tom Dixon, creative director of U.K.-based furniture retailer Habitat and, since 2001, head of a London design studio bearing his name. One of Dixon's most recent developments involved a novel approach to plastic extrusion. The product, named ``Fresh Fat Plastic,'' consists of spaghetti-like extrusions of plastic that are woven, twisted or molded while still warm into hand-made forms. Dixon has shown pieces using this method at museums around the world, including in London; Milan, Italy; Tokyo and Sydney, Australia.
Dixon has developed a product range using this process and Eastman's clear, Provista-brand copolymers to form bowls, light shades and furniture pieces. He also is using Provista to produce colored plastic room divider screens, which he first showed at last year's Milan Furniture Fair in Italy.
And a company called 3form Inc. in Salt Lake City a few years ago developed the technology for encapsulating fabric within sheet made with Eastman's Spectar copolyester resin. This process now is used by customers such as Knoll Inc. (under the Imago brand name) and Carnegie Fabrics (under the Xorel Surfaces brand) to create various products such as office and ceiling panels, furniture and room dividers. 3form sells its own version of resin-based panels under the Varia brand name.
Both White and Bounds are enthusiastic about both the realized and potential value of building these relationships.
``We're learning about our materials,'' White said. Cellulosics, for example, ``have a different sound'' from other plastics, and the designers have helped Eastman to understand how best to exploit this attribute.
Bounds, meanwhile, says of working with design students: ``We want to educate a whole generation of designers. We view our work there as an investment in the future.''