Ten years ago, Eastman Chemical Co. began changing the way it approached product development, with a new focus on industrial design and the design community.
Led by Gaylon White, Kings- port, Tenn.-based Eastman launched new ways to introduce its resins in more aesthetic approaches that designers could more easily understand. It worked with colleges to connect with design students, and White and his team became a fixture at Industrial Designers Society of America meetings. The group also told stories about new products that designers could relate to.
Now it's updating many of those key outreach moves, including a revamped website — innovationlab.eastman.com — which takes advantage of changes in video technology and software that did not exist when it first launched in 2004.
“It used to take two weeks' lead time to get something new up on the system,” said Alan Lee, a London-based designer who helped Eastman create the first version of Innovation Lab and oversaw its redesign. “You've got to be able to make a website that tells all these great stories, and we were limited before.”
The updated Innovation Lab site launched during IDSA's annual meeting, held, Sept. 14-17 in New Orleans.
“We were ahead of the curve when we first launched this, but things have changed and we couldn't do everything we wanted to do,” said White, director of design programs, during at interview at the IDSA conference.
Videos previously linked on the site were limited to small boxes embedded on the computer screen. They are now large and there are more of them on multiple topics — and they do not just feature Eastman products. White said it is important that the website serve as a discussion portal for all of design. So while there are profiles on products using Tritan copolymer and Tenite cellulosic, there is also an interview with auto designer Chuck Pelly and with executives from retail companies Target and Best Buy.
Lee, director of London design group Uber, said it is also important to keep the design user in mind for the site. Rather than keying discussions toward chemical properties, it focuses on the “story” of how different people have used a material. An animated video shows the process of turning wood pulp into Tenite, for instance, with minimal text.
Those brief animations and video stories also have changed the way Eastman executives can introduce their work to people outside the plastics industry, White said.
“It's become part of the ‘elevator speech,' “ he said. When a stranger asks what an Eastman employee does, the employee can use an Innovation Lab smart-phone application and quickly demonstrate what the company sells in a way everyone can understand.
It is important that Eastman continue on the path of working closely with designers, said Tim Dell, vice president of innovation. It has opened new business opportunities for the firm, and the company intends to continue its investment, even as White — the public face of the company for designers — plans to retire early next year. The updated Innovation Lab is part of that continued emphasis. “We're not going to back away from design,” Dell said. “Design is going to continue to be important for us.”