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The Greatest Product Design Of All Time

Apr 26, 2008
When it comes to product design, there can be little doubt that plastic is the one time biggest invention that has helped make billions of items affordable and readily available to everybody.

Plastic, coming from the Greek word Plastikos meaning to mould or shape, is the product design of Alexander Parkes and was first publicly demonstrated at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. This is an organic material made from cellulose that can be heated and moulded to any shape, retaining this new shape on cooling.

The invention of plastic has opened the doors to a myriad of new product designs that otherwise would either not have been possible, or at best would have still been invented but at vastly inflated prices as to those that plastic brings about.

Plastic has increasingly been used in product design throughout the years with varying popularity. Warehouses were full to the rafters with plastic furniture in the sixties but some people saw the products as 'cheap' as in cheap quality as well as cheap prices. And this was looked down upon for a time.

But that is the whole beauty of this product design. It is cheap. It is flexible, mouldable, resilient and very strong. It means that anything from furniture to food and drink containers, from toys to paints, from cameras and phones to radios - all have plastic elements.

Plastic can be coloured in whatever way you want it to stand out or blend in, to look natural or completely manufactured.

The invention of plastic itself has opened doors to product design in every single area of life. And this itself brings about another problem. Plastic does not simply rot away. It can give off toxic fumes if burnt and will overwhelm landfill sites the world over.

However, there really is no reason to be throwing plastic items away in landfill sites as it can all be recycled. The problem arises in trying to encourage people to do the right thinking when plastic products are finished with. Water bottles are one derivative of plastic product design and with today's emphasis on health and well being many people have taken to constantly carrying water bottles with them and sipping regularly.

It seems crazy that they want a healthier body so they drink more water but care little about their environment to the point where they are quite happy to pollute it by not recycling in a responsible manner. In 2002, a staggering 15 billion plastic water bottles were produced and of this total, a mere 12 per cent were recycled. This compares with thirty per cent of soft juice drinks bottles but is still nowhere near enough.

It is relatively easy to recycle plastics and they can simply be reformed into something else. Take a look at the blonde woman from Texas. One minute she was normal but after some reforming with plastic surgery she turned into Pamela Anderson. All very well but what happens after death? In years to come will the ground be littered with plastic body parts that used to be implants?

On a more serious note, plastic surgery is one area that has hardly been touched by actual plastic and the name is slightly misleading. Plastic surgeons concentrate on remodelling bones, cartilage, muscle and skin using various products and are sometimes mistakenly called cosmetic surgeons.

One way or another, it has to be said that plastic is one of the greatest product design results the world has ever seen and has opened the floodgates for so many more possibilities. All we need to do is dispose of it responsibly and it will see us through many more generations.
About the Author
Manufacturing expert Catherine Harvey looks at how product design took a turn with plastic.
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