Wednesday, 22 June 2022

OXO kitchen utensils, Smart Design, 1990

Last week I finally completed the catalogue records for a number of OXO kitchen utensils that MoDiP received as part of a generous donation back in November 2021. A total of 163 objects made their way into the museum’s collection, and I have already written a couple of blogs about some of the other items that were gifted and caught my eye, such as the Rotaflex lampshade and the Input record and cassette racks. Now it is time for the OXO range (refer image below), which it turns out have some rather nifty design features.

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Some of MoDiP’s OXO range.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Sam Farber, a retired housewares executive, founded OXO in 1990 after observing his wife experiencing difficulties in holding a vegetable peeler, due to arthritis. She asked him if he could make something better and, rising to the challenge, he approached the agency Smart Design to help him develop a range of utensils.

With a brief to produce an affordable product line that could be used by everyone (not solely for those with arthritis), the designers decided to develop one handle that could be used with each of the different tools. As a result, it might be pulled (eg. a vegetable peeler), pushed (eg. an apple corer) or twisted (eg. a lemon reamer), and it needed to be easy to control regardless of the size/shape of the hand or strength of grip. They conducted extensive research and tested and adapted their prototypes alongside volunteers from the American Arthritis Foundation.

Image ref: Handle form study (left) and grip study (right).
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They chose a material called Santoprene (a thermoplastic rubber - TPR), because it is robust, durable, soft-to-touch, non-slip (even when wet) and easy to blend with other materials. It was originally developed as an alternative material for injection moulded tyres (for which it was unsuccessful) and had begun to be used in seals and gaskets within the automotive, household appliance and construction industries. The manufacturer, keen to explore other applications for this polymer, offered their support to the project.

Image ref: The first tool developed was the swivel head vegetable peeler; finalised design on the right.
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In designing the finger grip, Farber wanted it to be tactile, something to engage the consumer and encourage them to pick up the utensil and try it out. A bicycle handle provided the inspiration and from that the flexible 'fins' evolved (refer image below).

Image ref: The development of the finger grip flexible ‘fins’.
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Looking unlike anything else on the market at that time, initial sales of the first 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen utensils to be released were disappointingly slow. Smart Design persuaded the retailer to introduce in-store demonstrations so that customers could come and interact with the range, and from that display the brand began to achieve success and win awards. In 1991, annual sales had achieved $3 million (USD), and the following year Farber made the decision to sell the company in order to retire again.

Image ref: Smart Design drawing for the universal handle.
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Now iconic, the striking, inclusive design of the ergonomic handle has found its way into a variety of other OXO homewares including kettles, salad spinners, cleaning tools and gardening equipment (the range has expanded to over 800 items). My favourite? Well, that has to be the pastry brush which has a unique silicone head consisting of a series of bristles with three flat sections in the centre, each possessing four holes to grip and transfer liquid (refer image below). Designed to be clump resistant and easy-clean, the head is angled to keep the brush elevated from worksurfaces. What's not to like?

Image ref: OXO Good Grips pastry brush.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


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