Design Object Series N. 003

The OXO Peeler, the Paper Coffee Filter + the Foot-pedal Trash Can

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three women and three designs that have improved our daily lives in the kitchen: Patricia Moore and the universal design principles she applied to the OXO Good Grips Peeler, Melitta Benz and the paper coffee filters that revolutionized the coffee experience, and Lillian Moller Gilbreth and the incredible motion studies that led to the foot-pedal trash can.

The OXO Good Grips peeler

The OXO Good Grips peeler is a best-selling kitchen tool, with over 40,000 reviews on Amazon and millions of units sold. It is also an important case study in universal design and product ergonomics that revolutionized how everyday objects were developed. The design was developed by SmArt Design in conjunction with gerontologist and industrial designer Patricia Moore, one of the founders of universal design. Universal design is the process of creating objects and services that are accessible by all, independent of age, physical size, mobility, ability, and any number of factors. More often than speaking of it as a distinct discipline, we speak of designs that adhere to universal design principles. 

The OXO Good Grips peeler has an incredible history, of which this is just a taste. Serial entrepreneur Sam Farber was cooking with his wife Betsey in the south of France, and Betsey, who had mild arthritis, was having a difficult time using a vegetable peeler. Couldn’t Sam do something about this? Kitchen tools hadn’t been taken seriously on the market, and a ‘nicer’ kitchen tool typically just meant a tool that was made with more expensive materials, not one that offered superior performance. Sam reached out to SmArt design, a company he had worked with before for his range of Copco kitchen tools. He knew he wanted to make a range of tools, so they needed a handle that could be used for many different tool types. “These were little items that had no batteries, no moving parts, but they provided a model that has been moving up the food chain ever since,” Moore explained, “Sam understood the duality of creating–that you need both form and function.” 

The OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler was developed to have a large, universally comfortable handle with an oval profile that doesn’t accidentally rotate in the hand. Image via OXO.

The development team wanted a handle that would be comfortable to hold for long periods and offer a secure grip even when wet. They found an innovative rubber-like polymer called Santoprene, which was being used for gaskets, this was the first time it would be used for a consumer product. They made hundreds of prototypes to understand the form that would work most effectively, and got feedback from those with all kinds of hand sizes and needs. They decided on an oval profile that wouldn’t easily rotate in the hand, a large, thick grip that would be easy to hold for those with low strength or impaired hand mobility or arthritis (or anyone), and textured fins on either side to provide a more precise grip for those who applied more pressure, and a visual cue of the tactile appeal of the tool. 

SmArt Design went to a Japanese knife company for manufacturing as none of the manufacturers in the US or Taiwan were confident they could successfully execute the delicate fins. This allowed them to have a superb blade, which is another reason that the peeler is such a hit. Not only is it comfortable and convenient to hold for all users, it is wonderfully sharp. The result of OXO’s undertaking is an iconic design object that established best practices for the entire design industry. Moore explained, “We were rethinking how you design. It became a social challenge.”

The paper coffee filter

Until 1908 it was common for coffee grounds and brewing water to share a vessel. The water would be poured directly over the grounds into a pot or mug and the grounds would gradually settle to the bottom of the container, becoming a thick sludge that the drinker would ideally leave behind but of course, that wouldn’t always work. Lots of clean-up was involved with this process, too. The French press was one solution to separate the grounds from the water, though it was only suitable for certain types of coffee and there was still the business of cleaning the apparatus. 

The paper coffee filter would change all of that, effectively filtering out the grounds and leaving behind a neat, disposable bundle for quick, painless clean-up. Coffee made with a filter was smooth, and sludge-free, and the filtration could influence the flavor positively as well.

Melitta Bentz was a German housewife in Dresden, passionate about good coffee. She made a cup each morning, irritated with each granule of ground coffee accidentally ingested. One day, fed up with the mess and inconvenience of the old way, she punched holes in an old tin pot and layered a sheet of her son’s blotting paper inside. She added coffee grounds and hot water, got a clean cup and a relatively clean pot, and never looked back. It’s said that she tested and refined the filter and the porcelain pour-over component with friends during her “coffee afternoons.”

Melitta Bentz developed not only the paper coffee filter but an entirely new system of making coffee based upon those filters. Image via jaune 10.

She was granted a patent within two years, in 1908, and set up a business making paper coffee filters in her Dresden apartment, with her two sons making deliveries and her husband creating displays to explain the new product. When she showed the product at the Leipzig Trade Fair the product took off and the company began to grow rapidly. The product was so clever in part because it was not only a product but a system. It took some education and training to help new users understand the idea, but once they saw the benefits they were quickly converted. The Melitta company is still one of the largest paper coffee filter manufacturers in the world. Though hundreds of styles are now available, the Melitta filter is the ancestor of them all.

The foot-pedal trash can

Many of the vegetable peelings and used filters above end up in our third critical kitchen design object, the foot-pedal trash can. While the concept of public sanitation has been around since the ancient Roman era, the first garbage receptacles didn’t come on the scene for hundreds of years, not until the late 1800s when the careless tossing of trash into streets and public waterways had become a public health hazard that could no longer be ignored. The ubiquitous foot-pedal trash can that we see in kitchens today was only designed in the last 100 years, in the 1920s. The development of this incredibly useful kitchen tool was brought about by an incredibly intelligent psychologist and engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Gilbreth was remarkable in many ways, most famously for being the model for the super-mother in the Cheaper by the Dozen movies, which tell the story of a family with 12 children and their clever systems for maintaining a functional household. The movies were based on books written by two of Gilbreth’s children. She is also known for her motion studies, detailed time-motion studies she did with her husband Frank Gilbreth in 1911 to understand how workers move when completing tasks as well as the time it takes to complete each task. These motion studies, and later studies around fatigue, were critical in streamlining factory processes. She also gave this kind of careful attention to offices, hospitals, sports arenas, kitchens, and her own domestic labor, determined to optimize those as well. 

The foot-pedal trash can allows users to access the trash with their hands free. Image via Simple Human.

Gilbreth worked as an industrial engineer for General Electric, which led her to design several improvements for the kitchen throughout the 1920s. She observed thousands of women at work, and from the insights she gathered from that research she developed the foot-pedal trash can as well as the shelves inside refrigerator doors, including the egg and butter trays. She also did the research that standardized counter, stove, cabinet, and other fixture heights in kitchens.  Next time you are at the trash can with your hands full, you can appreciate that clever, hands-free foot pedal action and the efforts of Lillian Moller Gilbreth to improve everyday life.

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The Gift Guide 2022

The Smart List is a monthly list of multi-media recommendations on everything design, curated by Interwoven Design. As a group of aesthetically obsessed designers, there are a lot of beautiful products and objects we love and enjoy. These products make our daily lives special and inviting and we want to share them with you. This issue is a holiday gift guide for the design savvy people on your list. Discover globally inspired Truffle Collection, natural candles, interior warmers, puzzles and color!

The Gift Guide 2022

1. Truffle Collection

Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Katrina Markoff, the founder and chocolatier of Vosges Haut-Chocolat strives to explore the connection between taste and spirit. By studying how people taste and smell cocoa in collaboration with indigenous plants, Vosges transforms these chocolates to acknowledge the connection with location and culture.

The Truffle Collection is inspired by Katrina’s global exploration and combinations of ingredients. The collection comes with a book that guides for tasting, sourcing and stories.

2. Latkes and Lights Candle

Homesick

Homesick is a home lifestyle brand that focuses in fragrances to help people feel close to the people, places and moments that matter most.

These natural soy wax candles are poured in the USA and contain premium cotton wicks and custom fragrance oils. The Latkes and Lights Candle celebrates the Festival of Lights with latkes in applesauce and jelly donuts.

3. Aroma Oil Warmer

Kinto

Kinto is Japanese brand that offers long lasting products have an even balance of usability and aesthetics. Their products essence focuses on detail, comfort, and expression.

The Aroma Oil Warmer is aesthetically intended to replicate the form of coffee equipment while also adding warmth to an interior space. The materials used include heat resistant glass and stainless steel that come together in a minimal and sleek design.

4. Puzzles

Areaware

Areaware is a home accessories brand based in Brooklyn, NY and Columbus, OH. Independent designers collaborate to bring these awesome ideas to life. Areaware spans multiple product categories that make great gifts.

The puzzle collection offered by Areaware features a plethora of designs including photography, illustration, food and patterns!

5. Anything!

Pantone

We all know Pantone, the universal language of color. Color can be the motivation to start a new home project or just create. So if you’re looking for something to ignite creativity, get anything from Pantone!

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How do we find the right materials for a design?

In our AMA (Ask Me Anything) series, industrial designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman answers questions about design and process from Instagram and LinkedIn. Rebeccah is the founder of Interwoven Design Group, a design consultancy that specializes in soft goods design and wearable technology. She has over 25 years of corporate design experience and has held positions as Design Director for Fila, Champion and Nike. She is the author of Smart Textiles for Designers: Inventing the Future of Fabrics, and speaks internationally on design, innovation and the future. In this issue she answers the question, how do we find the the right materials for a design?

Watch the vide or read the transcript below for Rebeccah’s explanation for how do we find the right materials for a design.

How do we find the the right materials for a design?

Traditional industrial and product designers understand the importance of selecting the right materials, such as plastics, resins, metals, foams and other rigid and semi-rigid materials for functionality, aesthetics, and ease of manufacturing. As soft goods designers we also take into consideration the textiles for each project.  It’s when combining rigid and semi-rigid materials with textiles to consider how they interact with each other. 

We have discovered that not many industrial designers or project managers realize that textiles have more variables to consider than most materials. Variables such as stretch, weave, stitch structure, chemistry, finishes, adhesives, melting points, dyes, elongation, recovery, pilling, crocking, yarn gauge, tensile strength, specialized equipment, yarn structure (and more!) that can affect the performance of a finished good.  As textile experts we can help select the best materials for each project.And here at Interwoven we specialize in wearable technology and soft goods. If you’re curious about what our work looks like, get in touch. You can follow us on our website or on our Instagram @interwoven_design.

Want to know more?

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What is Sustainable Design?

Design is a broad, complex industry that isn’t well understood in mainstream culture. Industrial design, our specialty, is especially vast. In our new AMA (Ask Me Anything) series, industrial designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman answers questions about design and process from Instagram and LinkedIn. Do you have any questions about design? Let us know!

Rebeccah is the founder of Interwoven Design Group (that’s us!), an interdisciplinary design consulting practice that creates innovative, thoughtful and efficient products. She has over 25 years of corporate design experience and has held positions as Design Director for Fila, Champion and Nike. She is the author of Smart Textiles for Designers: Inventing the Future of Fabrics, is one of the founding partners of Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+), and speaks internationally on design, innovation and the future.

Watch the video or read the transcript below for Rebeccah’s definition of sustainable design.

What is sustainable design?

Hi, I’m Rebeccah from Interwoven Design Group, and today you can ask me anything. The question that we’re going to work on today is: What exactly is sustainable design? 

The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.  All of these objectives start in the design process. As designers we have a responsibility to prioritize these objectives when we work through any design process.  But the biggest challenge is when a client’s fiscal and sales goals are out of alignment with these objectives. The four pillars of sustainability are: people, environment, profit and culture. Ideally, as designers we are most effective when we can achieve these goals and meet or exceed a clients’ needs.

If you’re curious about what we do here at Interwoven, you can get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. You can follow us on Instagram @interwoven_design or you can go to our website at getinterwoven.com.

Watch the video or read the transcript below for Rebeccah’s definition of sustainable design.

Want to know more?

Here at Interwoven Design our design niche is the intersection of soft goods and wearable technology. We explained what soft goods design is, and you can check out our Insight article on wearable technology to learn more about that aspect of our work.

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A Q&A with Design Leader Lea Stewart

“You have to be really good at what you do”

A Q&A with Design Leader Lea Stewart

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them.  In this interview, we speak with design leader Lea Stewart, an industrial designer with expertise in
team management, strategy, and concept development in multiple product categories.

Lea currently oversees a global team of industrial designers in the baby division at Newell Brands. Oh, and she’s a professional speaker as well, specializing in design leadership, women in design, the value of design, and much more. Basically, she’s cool. We asked her about being a woman in industrial design and how we can better support women in the industry.

Head shot of Lea Stewart, industrial design leader.
Lea Stewart is a leader in industrial design as well as a speaker and educator. Photo courtesy of Lea Stewart.

Q: What are you working on that’s interesting to you at the moment?

A: So let me explain what I do, and then it will make more sense why certain things are interesting to me. I lead the design group for Newell Brands that develops all the products for our baby business unit. That’s one section of the corporation, but it includes many different brands you might be familiar with, like Graco, which is strollers and car seats, and Nuk, which is bottles and pacifiers and feeding tools. Everything to do with babies, toddlers, etc.

We have a project right now that I’m super excited about, going into a new category. And I wish I could tell you more. New category expansion is rare, because we’re so saturated in categories that we’re already in. Going into a new white space is really exciting. It’s a hard thing to not be known in a space and then develop that first product. It’s got to win if you’re going to continue to be in that space, so it’s high pressure, but it also doesn’t have any precedent.

It’s really cool when I think “oh man, I wish this existed when I first had my child.” My son is now four. That’s all I can say for now but that’s what gets me excited; when there’s a huge challenge of “gotta win” in that totally new space.

Q: Could you tell us about one of your favorite projects and share why it is important to you?

A: Like picking a favorite child! 

It’s hard to pick one thing when you’ve been working in the field for 20 years, so I’m going to pick from projects that launched in the last year, and tell you about the Baby Jogger City Sights stroller. It started a couple of years ago, because it takes quite a while to get to market. When we started to work on it, what was so cool was the team interaction. It was one of our first ground up strollers for that brand. A lot of the projects we were doing initially was updating aesthetics, but not quite reinventing the way that the stroller worked. This stroller was completely rethinking how we would get a modular stroller—which means the seat would come off—to be compact, lightweight and super premium. And we started from scratch. 

When I say we it was cross-functional teams. We had a war room we were working in. We had folks that work specifically on fabrics and fashion and soft goods. We had engineers, the suppliers that we were partnering with, and then the design team. The other thing that I love about it: it’s beautiful, especially in the mode where the bassinet is attached. A bassinet attachment is usually an afterthought in stroller development…and it doesn’t look right. The use of the bassinet mode is really popular in Europe especially, and this mode looks just gorgeous. 

We just won a Red Dot award, so I’m super excited about that. Parenting is such a difficult job that it feels very fulfilling to help with that in any kind of way, because it is tough. It is so tough.

Q: At what point in your career did you transition from designing to designing and leading teams? 

A: Yeah, super interesting question. It made me think a lot, because even in my very first job, which was lifeguarding when I was in high school, it always ended up that whoever I was working for naturally said, Oh well, now you’re not just a lifeguard, you’re going to be the manager of the lifeguards. They would notice something in me where they would give me responsibility. 

When I got into the design world, in early roles, I might have had an intern or been working with an outside contractor. You need to be thinking, what kind of work should I be asking them to do? As I got more experience with that it started really motivating me. I would love to do the planning and the thinking around what should we do in this project, and then have someone else activate it or work with them to activate it, and mentor and coach them. It happened pretty naturally. I think people recognized that responsibility or that ability in me, and I started to notice that it was inspiring me, to see other people develop. That’s how I knew management was a path I wanted to take.

Q: How did your public speaking start?

A: It didn’t really have anything to do with a connection to people-managing or leadership. In my early career it was more about networking, and wanting to be known as an industry expert. I felt like I had something I could contribute, so I would give talks about my work. In 2020, I got asked to speak at an Industrial Design Society of America panel about different generations of women. There were three other women on the panel and they all had more experience than I did. One of them was actually in her 90s. And I’m thinking to myself, How do I not know these women? 

They were amazing. Am I doing the same thing? Not letting myself be seen by less experienced women? It would be great if they could see more representation in our industry. 

Since that realization—that representation is really important to less experienced women in particular—I’ve wanted everyone to see, Hey, yes. There are women that have 20 plus years experience in this industry. I pretty much just say yes to anybody who asks me to speak. I do a lot of talks with students. I take it as my form of volunteering right now, it’s something that I can give back.

Q: How do you navigate being a woman in the design industry? A woman in leadership?

A: I think that first, you have to be really good at what you do. I’m not going to have a seat at the table, if I’m not super badass at what I do. 

I work really, really hard to be good at design and design leadership. I’ve got to have the chops before I can do any kind of advocacy. Because I am really interested in equity for women in our field, I do a lot of work outside of my day job, to work towards that. Being a leader in the Industrial Design Society of America and a representative for the Central District is one thing, I’m also on the board of a community group called Women and ID Chicago. I volunteer myself a lot. I’m also active in employee resource groups for women in my company. 

At some large companies, they might have groups of folks interested in common goals. One group at my company focuses on how women can help women in the workplace. For example, we might meet and talk about a new study from McKinsey that talks about challenges for women in the workplace. We get guest speakers and offer tools and resources. It’s a place for women to talk about what it’s like. A place where, when something does come up, you have a network that you could talk to. It’s really helpful even just to have other people say, I know what you mean. I’ve been there, you’re not crazy

Q: What guidance do you have for women who aspire to leadership positions?

A: The work that I do, I wouldn’t classify it necessarily as activism or overt activism. It’s really about helping women navigate their careers. I have focused on women in industrial design because I feel like I can make change within our industry. To choose your focus might be something to think about. I’m super focused right now on advancing industrial design specifically. 

Leadership could be leading projects or initiatives. You don’t necessarily have to manage people in order to be a leader. You really should think about what motivates you. Do you really want to be responsible for other people’s development? When you see somebody else learn and grow, does that get you excited? Or is it more about the project management, figuring out what should happen in this project while not really wanting to develop people? You could mentor people, mentoring them on a skill and managing them is a little bit different. Think about what happens when you get a manager title: it’s not just about control and power. It comes with that responsibility for the people who will work for you, and I see that as a big difference. 

Other advice: let’s say you have no idea, you don’t know what you’d be motivated by. You could talk to the folks you work with about what they do. Could you shadow another manager? Could you sit in as a fly on the wall in a meeting that’s just for managers to see what kind of things they’re talking about?

Q: How was the transition into motherhood for you as a professional?

A: I think for all, becoming a parent is just hard. That’s whether you’re in industrial design or any field. It is hard. Your brain half works, your body’s all messed up, you’ve got a lot of responsibility and very little sleep. But all these things are short-term, so that normalizes after a while. You’ve got to create your own support network, whether that’s a partner or other forms of help. Get yourself a good network and recognize that you need that village. 


When I went back to work, the other moms that I work with were amazing. There were the most heartwarming memories when I first came back. There were two other moms using the pumping room and they decorated the room for me on my first week back. It was so sweet because they knew. They were already in it and they were like, We know this is hard, you got this.

Q: Were you already working in the baby division when you had your baby?

A: Yes, for several years actually, and I had a really hard time having a baby so that was interesting too, working in this category, being a leader in this category, while personally having a ton of trouble and going through a lot of infertility treatment. Then again, you realize that a lot of people go through that, and there were a lot of leaders in my business unit that went through it, too. 

My company is very supportive, they have policies in place. My managers worked with me. I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have a lot of challenges or things I had to navigate new, or be the first one. A lot of women go through that. If you’re working for a company that doesn’t have precedents set, you may be the first person to have gone on a maternity leave and have to set the policies with your company and discuss what’s going to happen.

Q: Do you think it changes what you’re bringing to the table as a designer, having had the experience yourself?

A: Somewhat. I think it can be good and bad. The good part is, you might know the kind of questions that could be in that mom’s mind. Say we’re going to build a new stroller; in using them yourself so many times, you kind of know the pain points a parent could have. And I say could have, because the danger is that you get in your own cycle of thinking, and my experience is not every mom’s experience. Every parenting experience is different, so that can be the danger: making yourself the consumer instead of listening to lots of consumers.

Q: What guidance do you have for those who want to be an ally to women?

A: As part of the Women Industrial Design Chicago Group, I lead a lot of their blog content. We did a really great series about allyship. The way I break it down is thinking about different phases of depth of your allyship. It could be you’re in the beginning, just realizing that allyship is needed and that bias does exist. You’re noticing things like micro-aggressions. Next you might want to do something about it but you don’t exactly know what to do, so you might need to educate yourself. That could be reading or listening to women podcasts, or going to women’s group meetings. We have a lot of men that attend the Employee Resource Group I mentioned. Then you might want to take more action. That could be giving voice to women and supporting an idea that you think is good that might have gotten passed over in a meeting, amplifying it. 

Even just listening intently when a woman is speaking is allyship. To just truly truly listen and give them as much attention as you would anyone else. If you’re in a position, you should hire women, you should mentor women. You could acknowledge any bias you see out loud. If you’re really bold and really want to be a good ally, you could get uncomfortable. You could point out people’s blind spots. You could have open conversations about equity for women in your workplace. 

The first step is to recognize the need for it, and that without allies, we’re not going to solve it. We really need allies to help. The worst thing to do is nothing! 

We made up a list of mantras that allies could state to themselves if they’re getting to that phase of realizing that there’s a need. I’m just going to read it out to you because I think it’s cool.

You can say:

  • I play a critical role in accelerating gender equality in industrial design. 
  • Women don’t have all the solutions to the problem either, we’re in this together. 
  • Gender equality makes economic sense. 
  • Gender balance and design will mean better products for users. 
  • Unrecognized and unaddressed bias could be hurting my design outcomes.

Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to add, or anything you wish you’d been asked?

A: I’m going to go back to that idea of just being really good at design. I think it’s overlooked a bit. There are so few women in this place of leadership that we get asked a lot to speak about women and design. We don’t get asked a lot to speak about just being a great designer. 

That could be another way to be an ally. Recognize women for being really good designers or managers or leaders.

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!