Human-Centric Design: Oxo and the Story Behind the Most Popular Items in your Kitchen
A brand that hopes to make our lives a little better and a little easier
Something people might take for granted is the ability to effortlessly open a canister, whisk some egg whites, or peel a potato. But for those who experience mobility issues in their hands, a brand like Oxo is a godsend. Founded in 1990 by Sam Farber, the company was born from love and the desire to make an apple tart. Sam, who was retired from the housewares industry, and his wife Betsy, an architect, were baking one afternoon. Betsy suffered from arthritis and struggled while peeling the skin off the fruit. Bob saw how painful and hard it was for her to use this simple kitchen tool and wanted to fix it. They stopped what they were doing, got out some modeling clay, and molded a new concept for an ergonomic handle. The combination of a housewares expert and an architect proved to be a successful one. Betsy was able to peel the apples, and Oxo was born.
The determination to solve problems and anticipate needs has been the brand’s purpose since its creation thirty years ago. Karen Schnelwar, Vice President of Global Brand Strategy and Marketing at Oxo, describes the focus of the company and how it differs from other houseware brands on the market. “If you picture a bell curve, with the center being the largest segment of the population, the front of the curve for people who need more help, and the back for dexterous folks. Most brands aim for the high point, the largest group of people. It’s logical and good business.” She continues to explain how Oxo broke the paradigm and focused on the front of the curve. By doing so, they create products for those who really need it, and the average customer appreciates being able to do tasks better. In going against the norm, they were able to include more people and focus on universal design and elevated experiences.
The Good Grips peeler, based on the peeler the Farbers created in the kitchen that day, was one of the brand’s first products. While Oxo is best known for its kitchen items, they also have lines catering to cleaning, babies, coffee, and tea. Their other most popular products include a salad spinner, the angled measuring cup (an idea that came from a customer submission), and the good grips pop containers, which are so popular they have their own Instagram account.
“In going against the norm, they were able to include more people and focus on universal design and elevated experiences.”
Oxo is a brand that walks the walk. The brand runs their company just as they design their products, with a purpose. When you visit their office in New York City, the first thing you see is their glove wall. Employees, or Oxoians as they call themselves, have collected over 200 gloves that are of different shapes, colors, sizes, and styles over the past 15-20 years. “We have kids gloves, and work gloves, ski gloves, and driving gloves, oyster shucking gloves, and there are a lot of different hands represented up there, and we see it as a reminder of all the different kinds of people that we have to take into account. It is another point of our universality and inclusiveness,” says Schnelwar. This year, in conjunction with its 30th anniversary, the brand is furthering its message by partnering with 1% for the planet. By doing this, they are committing to donating 1% of annual sales to organizations focused on giving back to the Earth. The way the brand sees it, the Earth is the home we all share. This year, they will be donating to five non-profits: Big Green, The Rodale Institute, The Trust for Public Land, Soul Fire Farm, and the OzHarvest. They chose organizations that are involved in issues that are important to them like, encouraging a sustainable food system, providing clean air and water, and supporting environmental education to children.
The brand defines themselves by the saying, “we make every day better every day.” “Better is the most important word in that statement,” Schnelwar explains. “We are always going to improve things every day. People use our products every day in their homes and their lives every day.” Oxo regularly receives feedback on the freedom it gives people. They stand behind what they make and want people to be confident in their purchase, and with a lifetime guarantee, they can. “The products we make can be a source of comfort, creativity, organization, or cleaning and give them control. It’s a different level of inclusivity and a deeper meaning for people.”