Fantasy in Everyday Products

Product developers today understand this evolution in purchasing expectation. it has transitioned from the entertainment industry to any industry where people interact with a product or service—not only consumer products, but industrial and business-to- business as well. one consumer company that exemplifies the motto of form and function fulfilling fantasy, in each of its 500 products, is OXO International. OXO’s first product, the popular GoodGrips veg­etable peeler, has received extensive publicity. The product was envi­sioned by Sam Farber, whose wife had arthritis in her hands. She found it difficult to use the typical 100-year-old peeler design and most other kitchen utensils, but she loved to cook. Whereas younger consumers may not see the ability to hold a product comfortably as a fantasy, many arthritis suffers do. They long for the time in life when simple things, such as opening jars or waking up without pain, were something you took for granted. Farber’s peeler was an unexpected entrance into the world of kitchenware. The large oval handle made from neoprene provided an easy-to-grip shape and surface for those with less grip strength. The patented fin pattern provided added grip when the handle was wet (and was a unique aesthetic that became the product’s brand identity). The improved blade required a blade guard that added visual substance and balance to the overall design. The product cost five times its traditional competitor, the designed – for-manufacture metal peeler that had been the standard design for the past century. Yet the peeler, originally designed for people with arthritis, met the needs of the growing societal trends toward improved aesthetics within refurbished kitchen environments. Soon, the GoodGrips became a mainstay for all kitchens, and all people, young and old.

The GoodGrips led to a revolution in kitchenware from an aes­thetic or style perspective, but also from the perspective of comfort and usability. The idea of great-looking products that could be used by people of different needs became the company’s identity. Today, OXO has more than 500 products, all designed with the goal of uni­versal design. in other words, anyone who should be able to use the product will be able to do so, as with the Mirra chair featured in Chapter 4, “Identifying Today’s Trends for Tomorrow’s Innovations.” oXo has received numerous design awards, including a Gold Design of the Decade award from the industrial Designers society of America (IDSA) and Business Week. OXO, which began as just a vegetable-peeler company, was bought in mid-2004 by Helen of Troy for $275 million.

Every product that OXO makes competes against mature products. Yet each of the 500 products designed by the company is a unique inno­vation, usually focused on usability and aesthetics. In other words, every innovation from OXO is an extraordinary part of the ordinary. Each product—a vegetable peeler, a salad spinner, a measuring cup, a dust­pan and brush—has well-established overall functionality. But the way that the functionality is met through its design is extraordinary, unique, and an improvement over the state of the art.

Consider what some regard as OXO’s best product—its salad spinner. Traditional salad spinners are bowls with colander inserts and a cover that meshes with the colander and enables the colander to spin through a crank mechanism on top. The user turns the crank with a rotational motion of the arm while pulling the crank knob, and the spinning colander then throws the water off the lettuce and into the bowl, thus drying the lettuce and inviting your favorite salad dressing to stick to the dry green leaves. The problem is that the motion and effort to make the colander spin is difficult for some and cumbersome for all.

OXO’s innovation came from the desire to have a person use a simple one-handed motion to cause the colander to spin. The insight came from children’s toys where a pump on top of a clear plastic dome causes the dome within to spin, providing the means for images to rotate and colored balls inside to jump over bumps on the base. OXO figured if a two-year-old can use one hand to get a bowl to rotate and balls to jump, the same mechanism could allow an adult to spin a colander to dry lettuce.

The result is a beautifully executed design. The black neoprene knob on top stores flush and pops up for use. A smooth vertical motion inputs the user’s energy into the system. The knob’s color and form contrasts with a white top and colander within a clear bowl. The colander and bowl work to provide minimal friction during spinning. The form is well thought out, with the colander having a refined rec­tangular mesh pattern that completes the clean look of the overall product, making it attractive enough to store on the countertop rather than hide in a cabinet.

Another one of OXO’s products, the measuring cup, has an angled surface that allows you to look down at a partially filled cup to see exactly how much liquid is stored within. The extraordinary part of the design, the innovation, came from identifying the difficulty and frustration that people have with needing to level a cup, at eye level, while filling it to see how much liquid is being added. Since its inception, OXO has sold more than $9 million worth of these mea­suring cups.

Even OXO’s simple dustpan and brush provide a superior means to sweep up crumbs off the floor. its bristles flow out from an ergonomic egg-shaped handle that encourages a natural and effective sweeping motion. The handle also provides the means to wedge the brush into the dustpan’s handle for easy storage and to make sure that the two don’t get separated and lost, a frustration with other designs. The side of the dustpan is molded with teeth that serve as a means to clean the brush, another frustration with competitive products.

Many of these innovations have been patented. They all brilliant­ly execute their functions. The vegetable peeler easily and comfort­ably peels, and the brush and dustpan efficiently work in concert for dirt removal. They also beautifully express an appropriate aesthetic. If on display in a modern kitchen, any of them would make the kitchen look even better. All of these provide not just an experience, but fantasy.