Product Design

OXO Founder Sam Farber’s Lasting Legacy

It is with sadness that we note the passing of our friend, OXO GoodGrips founder Sam Farber, who died Sunday at the age of 88. Farber, who received the “Design of the Decade” award from the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and BusinessWeek magazine in 2001, proved that ground-breaking innovations don’t have to be based on cutting-edge technology nor even have mechanical parts.

The flagship product upon which Farber founded OXO International was the humble potato peeler, an inexpensive and unglamorous gadget found in every kitchen for centuries. After hearing his wife, Betsey, bemoan the lack of a peeler that did not cause her arthritis to flare up, Farber – who had just sold his enamel cookware company, Copco, and “retired” — began wondering why manufacturers had not tried to improve upon kitchen utensils. Listening to his wife discuss the “business” end of the peeler, the side with the blade, and the “user” end, the handle, he realized that the problem was not how well the peeler peeled, but how it felt in the hands of the user. That led to the development of OXO’s ergonomically designed handle – a black, chubby oval handle made of a rubbery plastic called Santoprene. Flexible to the touch, the heat- and cold-resistant handle offered everyone a comfortable grip, including users with arthritis and other disabilities. The handle incorporated “fins,” an extra-cushioned spot where the user’s fingers grip. Acting on his belief that the best designs should be multi-generational, Farber considered the comfort of older users with limited mobility and declining strength. He even placed an over-sized tapered hole in the handle for hanging storage to make it easier for people with shaky hands or dim vision.

Explaining his reasoning, Farber said, “Why shouldn’t everyone who cooks have comfortable tools?…Universal design stresses the need to make the design of any product or service fit the needs of the broadest spectrum of the populace as possible. Why not a product that makes life more comfortable for everyone. Current population trends will demand transgenerational products; products that will be useful to you throughout the course of your life. This approach acknowledges that people will change over time, that their needs vary with ordinary things like pregnancy, carpal tunnel syndrome, skiing injuries or the unavoidable changes of aging. We are all only temporarily able, so we should use design to extend the useful life of both the object and the user.” Today, Oxo International, which Farber sold in 1992, has hundreds of products that emphasize ergonomic design.

To learn more about how Sam Farber came to create OXO (so named by him because it would read the same forwards, backwards and upside down), go to Archive above and see Volume 2, Number 1.