Interested in what industrial designers think about plastics? Check out the "plastics primer" posted a few days ago on core77.com, a Web site that serves the global design community. The column is authored by Carl Alviani, an industrial designer at FlatHED in Portland, Ore. It touches on the history of plastics, some significant applications, and the differences among polymers. The column also includes lots of useful links. Although it's intended for designers, the primer has plenty of information that would be useful for folks in the plastics industry. Plus, Alviani reaches some interesting conclusions on how designers should take advantage of the unique nature of different plastics, rather than using them to try to mimic traditional materials.
Product design today frequently means plastics design, and there are a number of compelling reasons to design plastics in a way that distances them from the "cheap plastic" perception. From a marketing standpoint, consumers are wary of objects that look like inferior imitations, and from a sustainability perspective, the less disposable an object feels, the better. The encouraging message for designers is that there is a wide array of ways to achieve this distance. Revealing polymers for what they are is key, as is educating the consumer to appreciate what a perfectly chosen material they hold in their hand, either through marketing or through design cues.He adds:
Perhaps it's going too far to advocate a total embargo on imitative finishes on polymers, but a limited one seems well in order. Just as building a brick house and then painting it to look like wood is absurd, so too with many consumer goods; especially those, like point-and-shoot cameras, that are guaranteed to eventually be caught out. Given the thousands of alternative ways to allow plastics their own unique aesthetic, and the inexorable forces pushing consumers towards their acceptance, designers are running out of excuses for playing dumb.Let me relate this to a common design-related complaint about plastics. In many stories that I see about new car and truck models, the reviewers complain about the interiors looking "too plastic," or using "cheap plastics." Is it possible that a radical change in how car designers use plastic could take away this negative perception, and perhaps even turn the negative into a selling point?