A nearly century-old, engineering-centric chemical company in the hills of eastern Tennessee is about as unlikely a source of right-brain design creativity as one might imagine. Yet resin supplier Eastman Chemical Co. has carved out a reputation for just such thinking among a design community more commonly associated with San Francisco, Chicago or New York.
During the May 13 Tritan copolyester plant-opening event at its Kingsport headquarters, Eastman displayed a broad range of cool and creative commercial products that use its copolyester and cellulosic materials. These ranged from the Kor One drinking bottle (which many officials excitedly noted is featured, through no efforts of their own, in the Iron Man 2 movie) to various housewares, small appliances and medical products.
As director of Eastman's design industry programs, Gaylon White for the past several years has driven the company's efforts to engage closely with those on the front lines of creating new products and who often have an influential voice in recommending material choice even if they don't carry around a checkbook to buy resin.
The design community's been instrumental to a lot of our different successes, said Dante Rutstrom, vice president and general manager of Eastman's Specialty Plastics Business Organization. They become disciples for us, as well, as they get familiar with our materials. They can recommend it, once they understand the value it brings.
Sometimes, he admits, it's hard to put your finger on what does a designer do for us in terms of generating sales the bottom line. And that's where you need to have a bit of a leap of faith on some of that.
Asked if he personally has made that leap, Rutstrom declared: I'm there someone's signing Gaylon's checks! He pointed out that a high percentage of the applications on the Eastman Innovation Lab website is related to his business. For a specialty business like ours, it's critical.
Eastman President and CEO Jim Rogers weighed in on the topic, as well. Asked about White's work, Rogers immediately stated: Impressive. If you think about the specialty products we have, and who are the real decision-makers, a lot of times you want to be in the design firms, you want to be in the cutting-edge customers, the ones who are always looking for something new and different. And that's where people like Gaylon really play to their strong suit.
As a case in point, White drove the creation of Eastman's online-only Innovation Lab which focuses on speaking the language of designers, while often foregoing any mention of Eastman's brands. A case in point is the just-posted video interview with Richard Seymour, co-founder and director of the influential, United Kingdom-based design firm Seymourpowell, on the power of storytelling.
Warren Ginn, principal of Ginndesign LLC in Raleigh, N.C., and vice president of the Industrial Designers Society of America's Professional Interest Section, noted how Eastman has made its mark both within IDSA and in the field of design education through its sponsorship of that association's design conferences and other projects.
Since beginning their engagement with IDSA over 10 years ago, Eastman has been a tremendous supporter of industrial design. Through their deepening relationships with our community, design has become a key focus for Eastman's brand strategy. Eastman's support of our community sets an example for other suppliers to follow.
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