Good Grips Prototype: Handle Form Study
This is a Prototype: handle form study. It was designed by Davin Stowell and Daniel Formosa and design team member: Tucker Viemeister and firm: Smart Design, Inc.. It is dated 1990 and we acquired it in 2011. Its medium is carved foam. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.
In 1989, Sam Farber, former CEO of the cookware manufacturer Copco, decided to establish the kitchen utensil manufacturer OXO International, inspired by his arthritic wife’s difficulty gripping a potato peeler. Farber considered many kitchen tools to be “functional disasters” and contemplated what could be done for his wife and the more than 20 million Americans with arthritis. He noted that, even for the average user, “ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands, with painful scissor loops... [and] hard skinny handles.” Farber wondered: if you made comfortable tools, wouldn’t everybody use them?
Farber approached the New York-based industrial design firm, Smart Design, with whom he had worked while at Copco, to design a line of ergonomic kitchen tools. The assignment was to develop tools that were durable, dishwasher safe, attractive, affordable, and comfortable to hold. The design team was led by Smart Design principals Davin Stowell and Dan Formosa. As part of the design process, they conducted field research into arthritis and other impairments, talked to consumers and chefs, and examined kitchen tools. They also investigated hand movement and divided tool types into three functional categories based on wrist and hand motion: push/pull (e.g., knife, grater), twist/turn (e.g., stirring spoon, peeler, scoop), squeeze (e.g., scissors, tongs).
From these beginnings, and with a preference for working with three-dimensional forms rather than starting with concept sketches, Stowell and Formosa adapted existing objects, or carved foam and wood, to make numerous models for testing. In the case of the peeler, the tool that started it all, one of the earliest prototypes was created by simply taking a metal potato peeler and inserting it into the opening of a rubber handlebar grip from a bicycle.
The designers determined that a multipurpose handle needed to be large to prevent hand strain and oval to avoid rotating in the hand. The handle would also include a large tapered hole for easy hanging when stored. In addition, the designers decided that the material had to be soft, flexible, and easy to mold. The designers ultimately turned to Monsanto’s Santoprene, a plastic/rubber synthetic originally used for dishwasher gaskets. To make the handle non-slip, the team devised segments of flexible fins on either side of the handle that bend to the individual user’s grip. Smart Design holds the patent on this “Fingerprint softspot” innovation.
In the summer of 2011, museum curators visited Smart Design’s studio to talk with Stowell and Formosa about their design process and to work with them to select significant prototypes and drawings. The 20 prototypes presented for acquisition represent important phases in the design process: five handle “form studies’; four “grip studies’; three “hole studies’; and eight stages in the development of the peeler (including the metal potato peeler in rubber bicycle handlebar grip) that carry through to the Santoprene handle and the final peeler. The selection of prototypes proposed for acquisition underscores the museum’s mandate to encourage people to investigate and think about the process and act of designing. This gift from Smart Design would join a comprehensive group of OXO Good Grips kitchen tools designed by Smart Design (1989–90) already in the collection.
 Corporate Design Foundation, "Getting a Grip on Kitchen Tools," @issue Journal 2, no. 1 (1996), http://www.cdf.org/issue_journal/getting_a_grip_on_kitchen_tools.html
This object was
Smart Design, Inc..
It is credited
Gift of Smart Design, Inc..
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Its dimensions are
H x diam.: 10.6 x 3.2 cm (4 3/16 x 1 1/4 in.)
Cite this object as
Good Grips Prototype: Handle Form Study; Designed by Davin Stowell and Daniel Formosa; USA; carved foam; H x diam.: 10.6 x 3.2 cm (4 3/16 x 1 1/4 in.); Gift of Smart Design, Inc.; 2011-50-3
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Beautiful Users.