Study - Oxo Good Grips
Design Principle 1
International Becomes a Universal Design Icon
1 Pyrex Place
Elmira, NY 14902-1555
In 1960, Sam Farber founded the successful kitchenware maker Copco,
Inc. Before this, he had worked for 11 years for his father Louis,
who owned Sheffield Silver. Farber's uncle Simon had founded Farberware
in 1900. After 39 years in the kitchenware business himself, Sam
Farber retired in 1988 at age 66. With all those years of experience,
it wasn't until retirement that Farber realized the impact of his
family's business on people with disabilities.
Copco Chopping Bowl
Previously, Copco had actually marketed several products useful
for people with disabilities. Copco's bowl-shaped chopping block
with rocker knife and large loop and knob handles on pots and lids
were favored by many people with manual limitations. Curiously,
little marketing advantage was ever taken of these products' attributes.
Despite so many years of experience in the kitchenware business,
Farber's ideas of inclusion of elderly and disabled customers were
not brought into focus until his personal experiences brought the
importance of the idea home.
Shortly after retirement, Sam and his wife, Betsey, rented a home
in Provence, France for two months. Betsey had developed arthritis
and the available kitchenware at their rented home was difficult
and painful for her to use. The more cooking they did together,
the more inadequate the utensils seemed. Betsey's knitting hobby
only added to her discomfort.
For years, kitchen tools such as vegetable peelers were designed
to be manufactured in the easiest, least expensive way. They were
better than paring knives, but only just. Betsey's discomfort forced
Sam to wonder, "Why can't there be wonderfully comfortable
tools that are easy to use?"
Sam and Betsey Farber
In 1989, Sam Farber decided to unretire and establish Oxo International
to produce kitchenware with older and disabled users in mind. Farber
chose the name because it could be read horizontally, vertically,
or upside down. The Farbers' son, John, took a leave of absence
from his position as a vice president at Prudential Bache to help
set up the business's finances.
Lend a Hand
Well-known transgenerational designer Patricia Moore was consulted
for advice, along with Smart Design, Inc., with whom Farber had
worked before. In exchange for a small advance and a 3% royalty,
Smart Design waived the usual fees to design the product line, Oxo
Good Grips, which generated immediate demand at the debut at a San
Francisco show in April, 1990.
The design incorporated plump, resilient handles for twist and
push-pull tools like knives and peelers, while squeeze tools like
can openers had hard handles. All handles were oval in cross section,
to better distribute forces on the hand and enhance grip, even for
wet hands. The measuring cups and spoons featured large, high-contrast
markings for visibility.
In 1994, another line, Good Grips Sierra Club Garden Tools, began
reaching the market. Next came a line of barbecue tools. Ideas for
new products came from looking at common everyday products and finding
ways to make them better.
By 1999, the Oxo product line had grown to 350, with the Swivel
Peeler, one of the original 15 products, leading sales. Four lines
were being produced for specialty stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond,
Bloomingdale's, Crate & Barrel, Linens N' Things, and Lechters,
department stores such as Kmart ("Touchables" line), Target
("Soft Works"), and Wal-Mart ("Sensables"),
as well as through mail-order catalogs.
Since its debut, the Good Grips line has won worldwide acclaim,
including awards from the Arthritis Foundation, Design Zentrum in
Germany, Good Housekeeping, Metropolitan Home, and nearly-annual
IDEA awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America. Good
Grips have been selected for permanent collections at the Chicago
Atheneum, Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design, and the Museum
of Modern Art. The products enjoy so much media attention that an
advertising budget has been all but unnecessary.
Award-Winning Salad Spinner and Soap Pump Palm Brush
and Competitive Response
Pedrini, Farberware, and other kitchenware producers have followed
Oxo's success with similar large-handled utensil designs. To counter
competition in the lower price ranges, Oxo has established its own
lower-priced line known as Good Grip Basics.
Farber's Retire, Again
In 1992, the Farber's sold Oxo International to General Housewares
Corporation and retired again in the fall of 1995. Sam hand-picked
Alex Lee to join the company as Director of Product Development,
and later, its president. At 39, Lee brought with him a drive "to
design easy-to-use products for the largest spectrum of the population,
from healthy 20-year-olds on up."
Both Sam and Betsey Farber continued to travel and promote the
concept of Universal Design. They appeared as keynote speakers at
"Design for the 21st Century", a global conference on
Universal Design on June 16, 2000 in Providence, RI, and discussed
the background and development of Oxo International and its "Good
Grips" line of products.
Still popular: Oxo's Vegetable Peeler
In 1999, World Kitchen (formerly Corning Consumer Products, makers
of Corelle, Corningware, and Pyrex) purchased General Housewares,
along with EKCO Group, and adopted the World Kitchen name early
in 2000. By 2000, Oxo International enjoyed an annual growth rate
of 37%, with about $60 million in annual sales. With little spent
on advertising, the inviting design and high quality of Oxo's products
made them the subjects of numerous print features and TV news shows.
Despite its status as a major(if not the foremost) standard bearer
for Universal Design, Oxo must constantly reiterate its mission.
President Alex Lee notes, "The idea was always, from the start,
to make useful products for people of all ages and levels of dexterity."
Still, Lee says, people sometimes think of Oxo as making, "geriatric
products for people with limitations." By continuing to rethink
and redesign everyday tools, Oxo is a constant reminder of the common
needs faced by people of all ages and abilities and the importance
of Universal Design in meeting those needs.
Appeal", Innovation, Spring, 2000, pp. 38-39.
Inc., 1/93, p. 98.
Kitchen, Inc., Hoovers Online, 4/25/00
Grip", Business Week, 11/29/99, p. 90
"Getting a Grip", The Washington Post, 1/26/2000, p. D7
of the Future", Innovation, Fall, 1992, p. 20.
for One Works for All", Business Week, 4/20/92, p.
The Best Product Designs of the Year", Business Week,
6/08/92, p. 52.
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