You may remember a few years back when Apple introduced an “unapologetically plastic” iPhone, and it was such a hit that all iPhones are made of plastic now.
I think I have that right. (Editor's note: Not quite.)
Unfortunately for polymer fans, plastic is often seen not as a design asset, but as something to be compensated for. I often run into this perception reading reviews of new vehicles — it seems the word “plastic” rarely appears referring to car interiors without a scornful “cheap” hanging off the front of it.
Andrew Smith, GM's lead on Cadillac design, talked about materials choice during a presentation he gave at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference a few months ago. In response to a question about how the materials of choice in vehicle interiors may shift as Baby Boomers age out of car buying, he first noted that he's a big fan of science fiction, and in science fiction, “plastic is huge.” But for some reason that look doesn't translate to what consumers want in their vehicles today.
“I think there is always going to be something around authenticity in materials. Whether it stays being leather and wood or whether it moves into other areas is a great question. But there's always some cues that people recognize as a luxury cue. For now, in the foreseeable feature leather and wood are probably those cues. … I think the key is authenticity.”
The implication being that wood and leather are authentic in some way that plastic is not.
But could it be?
Over the past few months I've asked several people — designers, engineers, executives — for their thoughts on achieving authenticity with plastic.
Sometimes the answer is “You don't.”
But there are other ideas, too: Incorporate natural fibers. Use soft-touch plastics instead of hard ones. Take advantage of the full range of finishes, additives and formulations available for plastics today.
A common thread is this: Stop making plastic pretend to be something other than plastic.