For an industry constantly wringing its hands about how to raise its profile and advance its cause among influential thought-shapers, the plastics industry pays remarkably little attention to the industrial design community.
Designers are not just creative, offbeat idea people. Many are just that, but also much more. They frequently recommend the materials and processes that will be used to make your customers' next generation of products. Common sense suggests one would want to cozy up to such individuals or, at the very least, strive to better understand their right-brain thought processes. Yet, with a few marked exceptions, there is a distinct lack of such interaction.
Bemis Manufacturing Co. and Phillips Plastics Corp. stand out as exceptions among processors, as do Eastman Chemical Co. and GE Plastics among resin suppliers. Certainly others have targeted designers with their products and services, but meaningful collaboration requires much deeper involvement. Designers tend to be wary of plastics firms, due to the distinct lack of such commitment in the past.
When the 3,300-member Industrial Designers Society of America held its annual conference last August in Monterey, Calif., in a large ballroom crammed full of table-top and pop-up exhibits of really cool, award-winning (and largely plastic) products, you could count on one hand the number of plastics firms represented. Two IDSA patrons - GE and Eastman - were the most prominent plastics exhibitors.
There were precious few other plastics people among the 600 or so attendees. And this at a meeting where the person next to you in the buffet line easily could be the design director of a Maytag, Honda, Herman Miller, Motorola or Black & Decker. You'd be lucky to get a 15-minute appointment with many of these busy officials if you approached them for a formal meeting.
When it comes to ID, practicing professionals aren't the only desirable demographic. Students matter. By sponsoring projects at top design universities, plastics companies can help educate the bright, environmentally conscious minds that in a year or two will be helping to create products at leading OEMs.
Eastman Specialty Plastics conducted an informal survey of design-school educators at an IDSA event last year. Of 24 teacher responses, not one said ``excellent'' when asked how they would rate their graduates' knowledge of plastics manufacturing processes. Nearly 60 percent said ``satisfactory'' or worse. And fewer than two-thirds of the respondents - those responsible for teaching tomorrow's designers - consider their own knowledge of plastics to be good or excellent.
Is it really that surprising, then, that plastics may not be the first option for many young designers when they ponder how best to make the next hot product? Plastics is losing the battle for mind share.
Robert Grace is editor and associate publisher and resident design evangelist at Plastics News.