Characterizing the plastics industry as fleet of foot, British industrial designer Martin Bunce considers the plastics packaging engineering and industrial design communities kindred spirits.
Industrial design as a discipline is rather new, and industrial design in the plastic industry is rather new as well, said Bunce, founding partner and director of Marlborough, England-based Tin Horse Design Ltd., in a Sept. 15 telephone interview. Because both industries thrive on innovation, most plastics industry engineers seem to be hungry for new thoughts and ideas.
I'm not sure which came first the fact that plastics are quick to proliferate as a very natural and consummate performer in the world of packaging, or whether designers were drawn to it. Probably the former. I think packaging was already there and what was realized is that there is a lot more room to play with plastics.
Bunce was the featured speaker for the Industrial Designers Society of America's most-recent Designer Spotlight webinar series.
One Bunce suggestion for plastics engineers: Go shopping with an industrial designer, as Bunce recently did.
It was enlightening for him, Bunce said. Living in the world of plastics, he never thought about the impact of what he did in a shopping moment.
Bunce discussed a project in which his firm was redesigning a shampoo bottle; 6 billion of the units were sold annually.
Most of the things we design, if they're not making a million of them a week, they don't really want to talk to you, he said.
The plastics processor making the bottle was struggling with a clip feature on the closure and wanted to add 10 millimeters of material to the closure's skirt; that little change on 6 billion units would have run to about $1.5 million in lost profits, Bunce said.
It becomes very critical in the implementation process to get those details perfectly, he said.
Bunce questioned efforts to develop biodegradable plastics, defending durability and reusability via recycling.
Biodegradable plastics are just a rather convenient way to make things disappear, he said. We ought to be able to make containers that can be reused.
The idea of using plastic that way is a really interesting one. It's there for the taking, really. Eventually, the commercial pressures will be such that that's the route we will go with polymers.
Sustainable design is particularly important in packaging, he said.
The issue is a big one for us, he said. The skeleton in the closet of designers in packaging work is this throwaway mentality.
Bunce discussed generational differences between the adults of today and the adults of tomorrow, and their respective perceptions of plastics.
There is still a sense among most older people that plastics are cheap and disposable, he said. Despite its inherent advantages, from weight reduction to shatterproof construction, buyers still have negative responses to seeing products in plastic containers beer and wine being most obvious, Bunce said.
That response is unique to older consumers, he said: Kids do not think about plastics in the same way we do. For them, Coke has always been in plastic. So when you give them a plastic bottle of beer, they don't have the same kind of switch perception or glass expectations.
That's the flip we will start to see: Plastic will become the ubiquity. Glass will no longer be a ubiquitous material; it will be a treat that people only buy once in a while, Bunce said.
Most brands don't want to be in that space. They want to be bought every day. And plastic is set to do that very well. And nothing is wrong with that.
We should stop apologizing for that. [Plastic] performs a fantastic service to the community.
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