Last Spring I was fortunate to be able to attend the GEL conference in New York City. One of the people on the slate of incredible speakers was Alex Lee, CEO of OXO. The fine people at Good Experience who organize the conference sent me a link to a video that is now posted to highlight Alex's talk. I wanted to repost my article, now complete with video, so you can enjoy on the great talk that has had me thinking intently about functional design ever since! Cheers (and thanks to Good Experience!)
You may not know the name "OXO", though you undoubtedly have seen their products in the kitchen gadget aisles. And their anonymity shouldn't surprise anyone - after all, their CEO, Alex Lee, believes that designers should be overshadowed by the simplicity and beauty of their own designs. Whether it's making an incomparable salad spinner or an ingenious measuring cup, the reaction OXO is always looking for from users is their lack of notice of the object. It should be so intuitive and easy to use that its use should go unnoticed, like walking, like breathing.
Alex also made several points about dignity. OXO seeks to design products that are usable by the greatest percentage of the population possible. The goal is to design beautiful products without increasing cost, while maximizing functionality, and never making a user feel like "I'm using this easy-to-use product because I am unable to use another one that is more complicated."
He and the talented design team at OXO have several axioms that they work and live by. Products should be:
Easy to use
Easy to understand
Use honest language
Instructions not required
As far as finding inspiration for worthy design projects, OXO also makes that search simple. They find objects that cause people some sort of pain or frustration, even if they don't know that they are frustrated. And then they develop a design remedy to alleviate the pain. For example, why should I need to get my eyes down to counter level to observe a meniscus to see if the liquid I've measured is at the right level? I should be able to comfortably observe it from overhead. I didn't realize that, but OXO did. Design so brilliant you wonder how you ever did without it...
Alex Lee at Gel 2008 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.