Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Body beautiful: plastics

In MoDiP we like to support and respond to various activities that happen across the AUB.  This term our cultural partner TheGallery has been hosting a magnificent exhibition about fashion and diversity.  Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk embraces inclusivity and body positivity and is open until 29 April 2022. The MoDiP team have been helping to invigilate the space and have enjoyed seeing the visitors exploring the themes and displays.

Invigilating the Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk exhibition to support our AUB colleagues. Image credit: L. Dennis

We have also put together our own exhibition in response to the theme of fashion and diversity.  Body beautiful: plastics, looks at how this group of materials play an important role in empowering us to manage our own identity by enabling us to maintain and restore our bodies, enhance and transform our shape, and express our individuality.

Maintaining and restoring our bodies

Plastics have contributed to the development of prosthetic devices due to their wide range of mechanical, electrical, chemical and thermal qualities.  They are inert, non-toxic and durable, with the ability to perform in the precise environmental conditions found within the human body. Different types of prosthetics are designed to achieve different objectives.  For example, some are designed predominantly for appearance, to look as realistic as possible, whilst others are purely functional, designed with usability as their main purpose.

Objects in this case:

Artificial eye and hip joint. Image credit: L. Dennis

Denture and leg. Image credit: L. Dennis

Enhancing and transforming our shape

In all cultures the human body has, at some point, been enhanced or artificially transformed to create a silhouette which conforms to traditions or fashions of the day.  Whether trying to achieve an hourglass figure, a curve-less form, or a more toned, athletic build, plastics materials can provide the required structure and support.

From synthetic ‘whalebone’ to elastane shapewear and silicone enhancing pads, this case exhibits a range of garments designed to target specific areas of the body.

Objects in this case:

Spanx tank and Wonderbra. Image credit: L. Dennis

Expressing ourselves

There are many ways in which people can express individuality.  We can do it through the clothes we wear and the way we conduct ourselves.  We can also change our appearance temporarily, through wearing removable jewellery, hairpieces and false nails, as well as more permanently, by adopting piercings and 3-dimensional tattoos. Whilst body modification has been practised around the world for thousands of years using a variety of natural materials, more recently biocompatible plastics have become increasingly common, particularly for those objects implanted under the skin.

Objects in this case:

Toenails and subdermal implants. Image credit L. Dennis

We look forward to the next opportunity we get to support our colleagues and be inspired by the work they are doing.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Why plastics?

Our latest exhibition, Why plastics?, is now open and will be running until 2nd September 2022. The original idea for it was based around a question posed by our Documentation Officer: why would a designer or manufacturer choose to make something out of plastics? 

One area of debate we encounter regularly is the perceived value placed upon this material group. Plastics are one of the most versatile and widely used materials, yet they can often provoke a negative response, particularly when used in short-lived applications or in high-end products.

This exhibition reviews their contribution to areas such as increasing accessibility, sustainability and transforming the vocabulary of design.

Here are a few of my favourite objects:

Flux junior chair, AIBDC : 007283
Image credit: MoDiP

The Flux Junior is a child's version of the one-piece folding Flux Chair, designed by Douwe Jacobs and Tom Schouten. Winner or the 2011 Grand Designs Product of the Year Award, it is made from a single sheet of polypropylene and exploits this material’s ability to form a living hinge: a flexible link between two or more rigid parts that can be flexed repeatedly without failing. Inspired by origami, the lightweight seat is surprisingly strong and will fold flat when not in use.

Awanama sake bottle,
AIBDC : 008379.1-2
Image credit: MoDiP

This transparent, PET bottle is designed to resemble traditional Japanese 'kiriko' cut-glass. It is covered in a shrink wrap film that helps to protect the contents from light as well as provide colour to enable the product to stand out from its competitors. Japanese plastics recycling guidelines state that PET bottles must be transparent and their labels easily peeled off. On display we have an example of the intact bottle and another where the film has been removed. The bottle was awarded the Dow Packaging Innovation Diamond Award in 2019.

Verpan inflatable stool, AIBDC : 009058
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Another transparent object and another piece of furniture! This inflatable stool was originally designed by Verner Panton in 1960 using calendered sheets of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). He was one of the first designers to begin experimenting with the idea of creating inflatable seating but technical difficulties with the welding of the seams meant that the stool could not be mass produced at that time. This example was re-issued by Verpan as a limited edition for Prada in 2018 and was selected as seating for their Spring/Summer 2019 fashion shows held in Milan.

Ultra 3 bloom shoes, AIBDC : 008116
Image credit: Katherine Pell

And finally, a pair of green and white running shoes made from BLOOM foam, the first sustainable alternative to synthetic and petrochemical EVA foam. Despite plastics using only 4% of the world’s oil production (the rest is used for energy, transport and heat), manufacturers have for some time been experimenting with alternative, plant-based, feedstocks. Examples include sugarcane, pine needles and bamboo but here, algae is harvested. Algae can be problematic in areas where it is not native, blocking sunlight from penetrating the water’s surface and depleting oxygen in marine ecosystems. These shoes help to clean waterways and offset carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

To see these and lots of other exciting objects, plan your visit.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Guinness Widget, John Lunn, 1980s.

What better way for the Museum of Design in Plastics to celebrate St Patrick’s Day this week than with a blog about Guinness?

You have to drink the Guinness first in order to access the widget.
Image credit: Pam Langdown

We recently catalogued some polypropylene widgets; the spherical plastics balls found inside cans of Guinness Draught. Our Documentation Officer had to do quite a bit of home research to acquire them – refer image above. Tough job sometimes!

The widget in action.
Image ref:

Officially called the ‘floating widget’ or ‘smoothifier’, the device was originally invented by John Lunn and was launched by Guinness in 1997. It simulates the traditional hand-pulled perfect pint, complete with creamy head, through a process of ‘nitrogenisation’. Essentially, just before the can lid is applied, a small quantity of liquid Nitrogen is added to the beer, which quickly evaporates and pressurises the can. The widget contains a tiny hole and the increase in pressure forces a small amount of nitrogenated beer inside it; when the can is opened it is forced back out as the pressure is released, causing bubbles to form and create the characteristic head.

MoDiP’s disc widget, AIBDC : 008998
Image credit: Reanna Butcher

The ‘floating widget’ superseded an earlier version which took the form of a disc, held in place at the bottom of the can through friction. Luckily MoDiP has an example of one we removed from a can of Draught Boddingtons, dated to 1991 – refer image above.

The first Guinness widget.
Image credit:

This first-generation widget was found to work effectively if the beer was served cold, but a warmer temperature would cause overflowing when the can was opened. Boddingtons provided instructions for their ‘unique draught flow system’ as follows:

‘For the true pub taste of Boddingtons cool in the fridge before pouring the entire contents into a glass in one smooth action.’

So it was clear the limitations of this particular widget were clearly understood at the time. Injection moulded in polypropylene, it also contained a tiny hole in the bottom and operated in the same way as its successor.

An early Guinness widget design.
Image ref:

Guinness first patented a method for ‘dispensing carbonated liquids from containers’ in 1969 but it took a further twenty years of research and development before a commercially viable solution was found. The disc widget was again invented by John Lunn and other brewers quickly produced their own versions, a few of which can be seen in the image below. Some were pre-filled with the nitrogen, held in place by a plug made from a material such as gelatine, which would dissolve into the beer.

Left to right: Guinness, Whitbread and Scottish & Newcastle widgets.
Image credit:

John Lunn founded McLennons in 1980, a company set up to make and supply parts for the bottling plants of breweries and soft drinks manufacturers. He was approached by Guinness in the late 1980s to help solve the problem of recreating the draught taste of their beer from a can. Guinness paid Lunn for his invention and they went on to patent the device, but he then created another version for Whitbread (Boddingtons Draught Bitter) and Heineken (Murphy’s Irish Stout) resulting in Guinness taking him to court. His third design, the ‘floating widget’, he sold to Whitbread and Heineken, and this is the one now widely used by most brewers.

The rocket-shaped widget
Image ref:

A completely different system was designed for bottled Guinness in 1988. The rocket-shaped widget (refer image above) had fins to keep it correctly orientated within the bottle and to prevent it from falling out. It used gaseous Nitrogen to produce the head; once when the bottle was first opened and then again, each time it was tilted. This enabled the beer to be drunk straight from the bottle, dispensing with the need for a glass. We would love to add one of these to the collection so if anyone has one they would like to donate, please let us know.
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Student Creative Lisa Moro: Mid way!

This is my second blog for this project, and it is interesting to look back and see how my ideas have developed over the months. I was initially thinking of something which would play with objects in a novel way, then started to think about more specifically domestic labour-saving items and how I could play with the objects and their uses. 

I have collected lots of material and have tried thinking about different ways to represent the different objects and what they represent. 

AIBDC : 006304SA

I have also noticed that with digital scanning a different view becomes available, as we can see items from the inside

This idea has led me to start to think about being able to view the inner workings of some objects. Often when viewing an interesting or classic design of an object the use in practice can be overlooked, I have with this in mind been gathering scenes of people preparing for or using the items- doing the background work

An example here is in relation to the sewing box where I have taken a 3D scan of a scene where two women are doing their craft. 


As I work towards my final iteration, I anticipate that I will create three such scenes where the inner workings of an object are revealed in life size proportions.

Lisa Moro

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Student Creative Jasmine Baker: Welcome back!

We’re about halfway there with the project, and I’ve been busy conjuring lots of colourful things in the last few weeks, which I’m super excited to share with you!

To begin with, I visited the MoDiP Museum to view some of the wonders I’d found peering through the online gallery and spent a sunny afternoon creating sketches and illustrations to fuel inspiration for my picture book.

Whether or not my primary motivation to visit was driven by a desire to play with the objects in question, well, we won’t talk about that..

But here’s a photograph of some of the wonderful objects I had free rein over for a few hours!

Photograph from my first visit to MoDiP
Image credit: Jasmine Baker

In my first post, I set myself three questions to help spark some ideas, and you may be curious as to the answers I found myself with. Well, here they are!

  • What would a child’s perception of plastic be? Bright, colourful, fun

  • What would they think it’s purpose serves? The imagination

  • To a child, is plastic inherently positive or negative? Positive

At surface value, I decided that children would be likely to find plastic; positive, bright, colourful & fun, with its purpose being to serve their imagination. As some of their initial, first encounters with plastic would be toys.

I should know, I have an adorable 12-month-old niece and it’s an understatement to say that she spends half her life atop a mountain of toys, when she isn’t busy launching them across the room in her own rendition of ‘fetch’, of course.

So, naturally, the themes I decided to tinker with are toys, colour, and the imagination, and to see where this would lead me. I started creating all sorts of doodles and let my own imagination roam wild. Here are some of my favourites!

Treasures (left) and Daydreamer (right) - front covers

Animals - page spread

Play - illustration

Toys - decorative page spread

Anyone feeling a tad nostalgic yet? Because I now wholeheartedly miss my Etch-A-Sketch and Tamagotchi. But like most retro toys, it is now upsettingly expensive to relive your childhood..

Anyway, next was to create some story boards, in order to organise the creative chaos - Here are a couple of outlines of what the narrative could look like, but things are still subject to change and take shape in new ways over the following weeks!

Treasures (left) and Daydreamer (right) - storyboard

Both of the narrative concepts I’ve conjured, ‘Treasures’ and ‘Daydreamer’, are about the adventures that children have, fuelled by their favourite toys. The concept for ‘Daydreamer’ makes me particularly excited because it plays with the border between pages, as the gutter of the page acts as a barrier between reality and the imagination. It’s also my idea to purposefully use colour to distinguish between the different worlds, with reality being black and white, and the dream world being filled to the brim with bright saturated colours.

That’s all I have for now. I will see you for the final update and conclusion to my MoDiP project next time!

Jasmine Baker