Posted on 8/25/2013 9:44 PM by Grace Jeffers

Wooly. Slippery. Rough. Some materials we describe by the quality of touch—how they feel is intrinsically linked to what they are. In the case of wool, we even use the material’s name to describe how it feels. But plastic would not necessarily been the first thing to include in that group of materials … until now!

People like things that feel good. Soft surfaces are comforting, like a well-worn shirt that hugs like a second skin, or a smooth stone that warms in the heat of your palm. Increasingly, market research is showing that consumers tend toward items that provide them with a positive tactile experience. How the area of haptics (or touch) operates on the human psyche is not fully understood, but there is evidence that it is an important influence on decision-making, both for a designer choosing a material and for the consumer.

For the last six years, Asahi Kasei Plastics has been innovating plastics for furniture. Chairs frames made with their products can be seen in offices worldwide—Herman Miller’s Setu chair (awarded the Gold Sustainable Design of the Decade award by IDSA in 2010) and Izzy’s Hannah chair are prime examples.

Herman Miller’s Setu chair. Photo courtesy Herman Miller.

Coming from the automotive industry, Asahi had been focused for a long time on creating stronger, lighter, more efficient high-tech plastics. But in the past few years and working with this new market, they have started to focus on the sensory qualities of their plastics also, both how they feel to the touch and how they give and support the body when you sit on a piece of furniture.

Izzy’s Hannah chair.  Photo courtesy Izzy+.

Office chairs have been being made with nylon frames for a long while now—that has been the go-to material for designers, a familiar alternative to heavy, dense, hard metal frames. But although nylon is lighter than metal, it still makes for a heavy chair. Asahi developed their Thermylene brand as a lightweight alternative to nylon for furniture, creating a polypropylene product that also performs better when it comes to stress whitening and tensile strength.

Now, SoForm (which Asahi debuted at Neocon 2012) takes the properties of Thermylene and combines them with this new focus on touch. SoForm not only has a soft surface feel, but also good scratch resistance and chemical resistance. It is directly injection molded, and can be made in a variety of colors, so not only does it feel good, it looks great too.

Furniture made with materials that are efficient, reduce waste and still provide a great user experience are good for everyone, from manufacturer to designer to consumer. As Joel Wiese, marketing for Asahi Kasei says, “Haptics are probably the next edge in materials design—products that not just look great, but feel great.” We couldn’t agree more!