ExxonMobil Chemical Co. wanted to speak directly to designers, to get them interested in its resins.
So it hired a designer - Chris Lefteri - and with his help created a Web site that lets designers learn more about ExxonMobil's plastics, without overwhelming them with raw scientific data.
``This is not just about factual information, but opening the door and letting them explore,'' said Lefteri in an Oct. 19 interview at the Industrial Designers Society of America's annual conference in San Francisco.
ExxonMobil rolled out its new designer-friendly Web site - www.materialexperience.com - during the event, which coincided with the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design.
The site keys in on ExxonMobil's most-recognized brand, the thermoplastic vulcanizate Santoprene, but also provides designers with primers on different forming methods including injection molding, thermomforming, extrusion blow molding and two-shot injection molding with a series of animated cartoons.
``It all has to do with bridging the gap in the most interesting way,'' said Lefteri, an independent designer based in Barnet, England.
ExxonMobil, like a handful of other material suppliers, has learned that if it connects with designers, it can influence material selection on a variety of new products, said Carol Fitzpatrick, global consumer marketing manager with the Houston-based company's specialty elastomers business in Akron, Ohio.
``Design is so important to consumer products today,'' she said.
But designers are not chemists. They are not comfortable reading traditional graphs and charts that show mold flow or elasticity. But they do know how they want materials to look and feel, and they know how they want something that will curve around complex shapes.
ExxonMobil and Lefteri spent two years developing the Web portal and the company's designer- friendly approach to show how Santoprene works in ways designers understand.
There are examples of Santoprene's use on existing products, including Michael Graves' Alessi teapot, on hand tools and on two-way radios, on cosmetics containers and in kitchen utensils, as well as studies on how to use it to provide texture and color.
Designers can just browse the Web site, create a profile online that they can use to develop a virtual sketchbook or order more information including a design kit with samples.
Beyond translating ExxonMobil's data into cues designers understand, Lefteri also is working with ExxonMobil's sales group to help them learn more about the design community, so that they can help designers better when they call for more information.
ExxonMobil also is looking at expanding the Web site into other plastics as well, to continue reaching out to designers.
``There are other materials to experience,'' Lefteri said.