Paul Koch

Paul Koch

Plastic Fantastic

If I can avoid using plastic, I do. Not only in design but also in everyday objects or appliances. If plastic is used, I believe there should be a good reason for it, and preferably it shouldn’t be price, (which it usually is).

I do have some favorites though:

  • LEGO
  • iMac G4
  • Crocs


Looking at the sign industry, plastics are of course inevitable. Vinyl is used all the time and certainly plastic sheet materials, too… and so they should. They offer unique features that no other material can give. However, sometimes signmakers go a little overboard and use plastic when it has no meaning anymore whereas it could be far better using a “premium material”, like aluminum. I will explain further in the following paragraphs…

One of my favorite objects is door-signs. The small, subtle, but so essential parts of finding your way in buildings. Every door in public buildings has them and if they are of good quality, they give you a comfortable feeling and add to the atmosphere without you realizing it. Also, in this case, the use of plastic is very acceptable, however, when it needs to be just a bit more elegant, premium quality framing is usually applied.

I see this frame similarly as the frame of an artwork. It is needed to make the sign more complete, more “polished”. The bad news is that it can be very easy to drag the whole thing down into cheapness, in case the frame itself is also plastic. And it is at this exact point that I want to draw the signmakers’ attention!

But I have not yet seen a plastic system in the market, which is significantly cheaper than aluminum.

I do understand that price is an important factor, especially with large wayfinding projects. But I have not yet seen a plastic system in the market, which is significantly cheaper than aluminum. Even a decrease of 50% in cost-price (of the plastic frame itself) cannot justify how inferior the final result looks. If a plastic sign frame would be 1/5th of the price, I would fully understand. And even then, I really expect to see a fully bio-degradable plastic material.

My opinion is that when framing is needed for a specific project, the focus should stay on premium materials. Nevertheless, plastic IS fantastic, when a more creative idea needs to be executed. It is very easy to form and shape plastic with a wide range of manufacturing techniques. The possibilities are almost endless when you are willing to think outside of the box or let’s say… the frame.

Any idea what material you want to use for your next wayfinding project?