The material of which an object is made has a profound effect on its perceived worth. This is because we inhabit a world full of materials and we, as individuals, place them in a spectrum of value. Often plastics are at the lower end of our personal spectra where we might hold more ‘noble’ materials, including precious metals, ceramics, and glass, higher up. As such, the use of plastics in certain applications is controversial. This includes their use in high-end products, or short-lived applications.
So why would a designer or manufacturer choose to make something out of plastics? Many factors are considered during the design process all of which have an impact on a product’s appearance, feel, functionality, utility, desirability, cost, and lifecycle. Material choice influences many of these factors, as well as the impact the object has on the environment, throughout its life from raw material capture, manufacture, and disposal, both for better and for worse.
The MoDiP collection has recently been Designated by Arts Council England as being of national significance. The collection is important because, by looking at plastics alone, by focusing on the material group without the noise or interference of other materials, it enables us, and you, to examine the capabilities of plastics in design. To this end, Why plastics? explores the properties and applications of plastics and considers why designers and manufacturers choose to use them in their products.