Industrial designer Michael McCoy envisions using plastics for increasingly integrated and sophisticated human-emulating devices.
``I propose a future of complex, comolded, multipolymer products that work and feel more like the organic human body and less like an assemblage of fragile gears and levers,'' said McCoy, a principal of design firm McCoy & McCoy Inc., based in Buena Vista, Colo.
McCoy and design academics Philip White and Louise St. Pierre spoke in interviews during the Industrial Designers Society of America's western district conference April 7-8 in Tempe.
What about the possibility of ``a laptop computer that is comfortable, durable and organic in feel?'' McCoy pondered.
``To me, laptops still seem kind of brittle, with mechanical hinges for the screen and mechanical buttons,'' he said.
``Even the ones that are `ruggedized.' They still don't feel like you could drop them on the floor.''
Also, such products should be made keeping recycling in mind.
``It would be great to be able to throw a complex product into a grinder that could then detect and extract all the elements for intelligent reuse,'' McCoy said.
The optimistic designer suggested his concept is ``another great engineering challenge which I think America is up to.''
A tool for those practicing sustainable design is nearing a new phase.
Organizers of the Okala ecological design course are waiting for new government data to update impact factors for common materials and processes, including those for plastics, said White, chair of the national IDSA Ecodesign Section.
Since a 2004 report was issued, ``we have been expanding the list and updating the methodology,'' he said. The list rates each material on the basis of 10 categories dealing with chemical and environmental impacts.
The pending normalization information from the Cincinnati-based risk-assessment sec- tion of the Environmental Protection Agency will have details on an average individual's consumption of materials.
``As soon as it comes out, we will officially recalculate all of the impact factors and publish them on the IDSA Web site,'' White said.
In the area of ecological design, a void exists.
``We are looking to get good-quality inventory data for bioplastics,'' said White, an assistant professor of industrial design at Arizona State University in Tempe and principal of Orb Analysis for Design in Phoenix.
``Because they use agricultural input, it is a different kind of data, and it is not that easy to find,'' White added.
Currently, the section has ``the inventory data for common olefins and styrenics, the common commodity thermoplastics and even the intermediate and engineering thermoplastics and thermosets, but we lack the core data [on] some of these newer plastics, which have greater interest to the environmentally friendly, sustainable-design community,'' White said.
St. Pierre discussed the continuing development of a plastic experience guide that can inform and focus a designer in researching materials and consumer needs.
Liesbeth Bonekamp ``and her colleagues were exploring ways of elevating the perceived value of plastics,'' said St. Pierre, who is an associate professor of industrial design at the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Bonekamp, a partner with Max Strategy by Design in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was chair of the sustainable-lifestyle-oriented Eternally Yours Foundation until it was disbanded in January 2005.
St. Pierre drew on Bonekamp's message.
``Perhaps we can reconsider what plastic is by doing some experiments with it to explore its inherent qualities in a much more expressive way. ... Can we make people understand that this material [has the] inherent potential of having great beauty and therefore could be an enduring product?''
Bonekamp's firm continues a Proud Plastics project, which started as a foundation demonstration.
``The plastics experience guide is an outcome of the Proud Plastics project,'' St. Pierre said.
``It is a tool used by designers to help them closely consider plastics that they will be specifying.''
ASU's Prasad Boradkar organized the district conference.