The Industrial Designers Society of America's recent, robust national conference in Austin, Texas, offered some vibrant truths:
* Creativity and design is alive and well in America.
* The world continues to shrink, as illustrated by the number of international participants and strong program content addressing global issues.
* A few more plastics firms have come to realize the value of close interaction with designers, but most still don't get it.
* Next October in San Francisco offers a great opportunity to start remedying that.
The program at IDSA's mid-September annual conference was packed - perhaps too much so - with overlapping tracks that at times made it impossible to attend all the sessions you really wanted to hear. But certainly there was no lack of choice. One evening the program ran past 11 p.m. Unfortunately, due to an unavoidable conflict, I had to miss the first half of this year's event - but I still saw enough to impress.
The total number of participants topped 700, exceeding even the organizers' expectations, and the usual mix of professionals, educators and students combined to generate a creatively combustible atmosphere. In addition to very cool products, the event showcases important topics such as sustainable development and environmental responsibility.
There was participation from high-level design leaders from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Japan and South Korea - including from such firms as Lenovo Group, Panasonic Design, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. To a greater extent than I remember in attending about 10 of these annual events, several sessions dealt with global issues, and others with serving expanding markets such as China.
Interested in mixing informally with influential specifiers and decision makers from high-profile, plastics-consuming original-equipment makers? How does this partial lineup strike you (all had attendees at this event): Apple Computer Co., Bose Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Clorox Co., Crown Equipment Corp., Dell Inc., Fisher & Paykel Appliances, GE Healthcare, Gillette Co., Herman Miller Inc., Hewlett-Packard Corp., Motorola Inc., Nike Inc., Nokia Design, Pitney Bowes Inc., Plantronics Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Blackberry maker Research in Motion, Respironics Inc., S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., Steelcase Inc., Target Corp., Texas Instruments, Tupperware Worldwide and Whirlpool Corp. Additionally, hundreds of bright, curious design students participated, giving exhibiting companies a chance to provide product and process information early in those individuals' careers that, with luck, will carry over when they take jobs at the types of firms listed above. But a word of caution - the usual dog-and-pony show used to connect with plastics industry customers won't necessarily work in this environment. You need to talk designers' language, and give them products they can touch, feel and manipulate.
Once again at this event, the level of plastics participation was disappointingly low. I counted eight plastics sponsors and/or exhibitors, including Plastics News. An IDSA official said a relatively late shift in conference dates led to schedule conflicts that prompted a few exhibitors, including an unspecified number of plastics companies, to withdraw.
Resin producer Eastman Chemical Co. again was the major sponsor of the concurrent design education symposium, and other plastics exhibitors included materials suppliers DuPont Engineering Polymers, GLS Corp., GE Plastics, RTP Co., plus engineered-products maker Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, and injection molder and mold maker Control Plastics Inc.
Officials from Bayer MaterialScience LLC, Dow Chemical Co., Dow Corning and ExxonMobil Chemical Co. were among the attendees, as were a few other plastics company representatives, from Evenflo Co. Inc., Jarden Consumer Solutions, Pactiv Corp. and Rubbermaid Commercial Products.
With a few prominent exceptions, this gathering continues to be one of the best-kept secrets in the plastics industry. Next year offers a new - and rare - opportunity. For the first time in two decades, the International Council of the Societies of Industrial Designers is bringing its global congress to the U.S.
The ICSID/IDSA World Design Congress (www.idsa.org/icsid idsa07/connecting.html) will take place Oct. 17-20 in San Francisco. Touting the theme ``Connecting '07,'' the organizers expect to attract more than 3,000 to the event.
Plastics News will be the exclusive plastics media sponsor, and also will sponsor the Materials & Processes conference track.
The event falls uncomfortably close to K 2007, the world's largest plastics exhibition, which runs from Oct. 24-31 in Dusseldorf, Germany. But it is possible to do both, as we are.
Few would disagree that improved communication and closer cooperation among all links in the supply chain is vital to keeping North American plastics manufacturing competitive.
To a large extent, costs get designed out and value gets added in at the very front end of the product-development process. Maybe more in our industry should make an effort to join that dialogue.
Hope to see you in San Fran!
Grace is editor and associate publisher.