Working with clients in major in-house design offices my studio follows what we call a materials centric approach: put the materials at the front end of the design process and let their intrinsic properties lead the way in creating new design opportunities. We look at how properties can be brought out and given an emotional, sensorial or functional story. Often these are with totally new materials but often that word 'new' needs to be explored with the essential family that is plastics. We dwell on looking at new materials to replace plastic. However, there is one sticking point in passing the blame on plastics: plastic, as a material for consumer culture, is not going away. Indeed, it does need to answer to very serious problems and to be challenged.
So how inventive can you get with a product if you could only use one material, one type of plastic? Without using glue, additional materials, no clips or screws, could you still get your product to perform all its functions? What are the materials centric opportunities if you try and just use one material? A way demonstrated by the Adidas Future Craft Loop a shoe that uses one type of plastic for everything meaning that there is no complex disassembly to recycle the shoe.
Plastic is embedded in our culture, our economy, our needs. Give it the feeling of a disposable product and we dispose of it. Combine two materials together, like rubber and textile, the product no longer becomes recyclable. But make the product feel like it should to be permanent and we might just want to keep it. Make products from a single material and you won't need to separate them.
Here are some examples of one plastic used in one product that take an alternative look at creating value through plastics, by extracting their properties, seeing how far they can take a product and putting plastic to good use by making it do the work that would otherwise be down to multiple materials.
Warm and sensorial - Recycled PET in the form of felt
Wellbeing, calm tranquillity and an emotional state relaxation is an ongoing trend with products and materials explored largely by textiles through softness and sensorial qualities. Recycled PET thermoformed felt turns rigid plastics and re-characterizes them as products with this softer quality.
Fun and playful - Recycled Gum
Inherently simple, customizable and with the production of each product easily adapted to for the size of different feet these entirely waterproof wellingtons boots have moved from pure function to a playful fashion accessory. Welded together from separate flat -cut-out pieces, these particular boots have another well-meaning story being made of Gumtec, a plastic made from recycled chewing gum waste.
Performance - Endurance and strength
No need for metal parts in this product. Here, material reduction, functionality and mechanical properties are the focus with polyamide facilitating both rigidity and hardness. The use of less material in the rigid handle and at the same time providing the sharp edge for the cutter for thinly sliced cheese.
Alluring sustainability - Premium
If products are designed beautifully and use premium, silky-smooth textures in a well-balanced product, we are more likely to reuse them. These reusable Muji chopsticks illustrate what is so appealing about this brands products. They take commodity plastics, detail them and manufacture them in such a way that disposable products are elevated to enduring products.
Production - Lightness, transparency
Plastic can be used in a way to create new experiences, however, this is not a product that immediately comes to mind when thinking of plastic. It avoids the pitfall of plastic being seen as an impersonator and instead, uses plastic to enable technology and to facilitate the shape-retaining structure of this Issey Miyake scarf.
Recognized throughout the world as a leading authority on materials and their application in design, Chris Lefteri is one of the most important materials experts working in his field. For over a decade his studio work and publications have been pivotal in changing the way designers and the materials industry consider materials. In 2001 he published the first of eight books on materials and their application in design, which have been translated into six languages. These books have led the change in the way designers view and use materials. Subsequently his studio, Chris Lefteri Design, has worked with bluechip corporations and major design studios across Europe, the US and Asia implementing a broad range of strategies for effective materials integration in the design process.