When you walk into the OXO Headquarters on the far West Side of Manhattan, the first thing you will notice are the gloves. A giant wall in the entry, maybe 20 feet wide, hosts dozens of single gloves, each one collected by OXO employees all over the world. Above each lone glove is a small data plate meticulously recording where and when the glove was found, “January 21, 1998, 71 Street & Columbus Avenue.” OXO, of course, is not in the glove business, but these lost gloves on the wall are about the hands that go into them, and how different they all are. And if there is one thing OXO is in, it’s in the business of designing for hands.
Everything OXO makes is designed to be picked up and used in your hands. The brand has a loyal following among the most discerning consumers, and for good reason. For nearly 30 years, OXO (pronounced OX-oh) has been making simply the best everyday tools you never knew needed an overhaul. Finding daily tools that can be made better, and working tirelessly to do so — and in turn, changing the way we interact with them, and the way we live every day — is an OXO specialty. It is how the brand came together in 1990 when Sam Farber set out to design a better peeler. When his wife Betsey struggled with a traditional metal peeler due to arthritis, he knew he could find a better way. Working with designers to make prototypes from clay, rubber bike handles and carved styrofoam, Sam and Betsey settled on the peeler you’ve probably seen — and hopefully used — the OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler. And from that love, OXO was born.
While most home goods and kitchenware companies design for the largest number of users possible, the average user, OXO discovered that if you make a product designed ergonomically for those who may struggle, the design is better for everyone. “Most brands design for the top of the bell curve and create products for the general population,” says Karen Schnelwar, VP of Brand Strategy and Marketing. “When OXO was founded they flipped that model completely; OXO’s universal design speaks to a broader, more inclusive audience. The result are better, more thoughtfully designed tools for every day.”
From the first Swivel Peeler to the heights of OXO ingenuity across categories — the brand’s signature POP Containers, its game-changing Salad Spinner — what makes OXO products stand out is the brand’s commitment to creating something better. This means everything needs to be thoughtfully designed and rigorously tested. All OXO products are designed in the spirit of its original peeler: recognizing a better way and working endlessly to make it happen.
OXO’s product teams are immersed in their categories, constantly searching for the next problem to solve. “Every OXO product is made by people who strive to know everything they can about a task and then make the best possible product experience to help a consumer with that task,” says Mike Delevante, OXO’s VP of Product Development.
Part of the OXO philosophy means it is never done — even after a product launches, OXO engineers routinely go back to it; it’s a constant quest for better. Its iconic peeler has gone through several updates in its nearly thirty years. To get as close to perfect as possible, OXO spends serious hours observing how people use a product. How you pick up a cheese grater, how you pour liquids into a measuring cup, scrub a pot, or open a container. “We observe people using tools – the ones they use in their home, other products they may have never seen,” explains Delevante. “Sometimes we have testers take photos or videos of themselves to capture a more real-life experience since people might do something different with our teams present to observe.” Understanding how people use the tools they have, and how it can be made better is at the heart of the brand.
“It’s prototype, test, refine and repeat — over and over,” says Delevante. Product engineers work on OXO’s products from sketching designs to making Frankenstein models and 3D printing prototypes. For a simple product, this could mean 3 to 4 prototypes, but for larger, more complex tools the number could be much higher. OXO engineers often look to the world outside housewares for inspiration. Be it a rubber bike handle or even the spinning mechanism from a child’s spinning top (which powers the brand’s salad spinner), product engineers look everywhere to solve the everyday problems they beat.
Once prototypes are made, then comes the rigorous testing. For many of OXO’s designs, the way to guarantee for a lifetime is by testing it over and over again. Mounds of zucchini, potatoes and cheese have met their ends at the hands of testing — all to be devoured by the office when the testing is done. To speed up the testing process of the Hand-Held Spiralizer, an OXO product engineer added a drill bit attachment, allowing them to blow through vegetables, simulating years of wear and tear. For the new POP Container design, a mechanical contraption was installed to open and close the container thousands of times. Even cleaning brushes are strapped and mounted on a constantly moving plane, simulating years of scrubbing. “The products have to perform and they have to be durable,” explains Delevante. “Our goal is to design products that last a lifetime – reducing the need to replace.”
Once the product passes muster and enters production, it finds its way into store aisles and kitchen drawers. If OXO did its job right, you’ll notice the thoughtful design elements but you won’t know the whole story of its development — it will just be a perfect tool, made for your hands. “Our goal is to make everyday tools that make everyday life better,” remarks Schnelwar. “We want to make things that fit comfortably in your hand, and in your life — every day.”