The simple combination cutting board below features multiple plastic sheets that allow the user to cut different items—raw meat, vegetables and bread, for instance—without cross-contamination.
We've all seen swappable plastic sheets before. But Fiskars added that nice little touch in the grippy rubberized grommet hole, providing a place to register the sheets as they're stacked on top. It also gives you a handy way to grab the cutting board and the sheets, and provides that splash of their distinctive orange for branding purposes.
It's not a game-changer or an earth-shattering design, and it won't have an impact on the company's fortunes the way their scissors did. But the designers among you will recognize this as one of those tiny triumphs that you pore over in anonymity; it's a thoughtful little touch that makes the experience of using this cutting board incrementally better. And for Fiskars, that's part of their strategy to conquer the competition-heavy kitchen space.
In a talk given at Fiskars HQ, Petri S. Toivanen, who heads up their Kitchen Business Unit, provided answers to some niggling questions that many designers have faced: How do you design a new product that can compete in an extremely saturated market? And if there are already thousands of products out there, what's the point of designing yet another one?
We recorded and transcribed Toivanen's talk, printed below. It has been edited for clarity and brevity; if there are any technical errors, the fault is ours.
Petri S. Toivanen:
When we set out to conquer the kitchen market, we started with the consumer, with the end-user. We spent a lot of time looking at how our products are used, how people cook, how they behave in the kitchen, how they go shopping, and we also looked at the social aspect of cooking. We learned a lot of interesting things, and I would like to share just a couple of them with you.
One thing you have to understand about this business: If you go to pretty much any household in Europe, all the [kitchen] drawers are full. Everybody has pretty much everything, knives, spatulas, et cetera. So our challenge was, How do you make a compelling proposition to consumers that already have everything? Well, we believe very strongly that we can improve even the simplest things, and make things that are already good even better, to bring us forward. And we are very diligent in doing so.
So we said okay, what is the competition doing? If you go to the market to look around, you see everybody is trying to sell you The Sharper Knife. The messages out there are "Our knives are the sharpest" or "We use the best steel," or "Our knives are made in Germany" or "Our knives are made in France." And those are for sure some great products. So then the question becomes, do they really solve all of the consumer's problems?
Next we said, maybe we cannot make a better knife than the competitors, maybe we can just slightly improve on them--but is that really going to make a difference?
So we decided Okay, let's take a step back, and look at this from a holistic perspective. Because in fact, kitchen knives are used for perhaps a single minute in a day, five minutes a day max--but what happens in the rest of the 24 hours? And we realized that a lot of problems using kitchen tools occur not only while using them to prepare food, but also when used you store the product, when you clean the product, or when you maintain the product.
Hence we coined the term "Kitchen management." The idea being that we need to look at the whole process of preparing food, and we need to solve all of the issues in the kitchen. Let's look at a couple of products that exemplify what we mean by kitchen management.
First off here's the Cook's Knife, that's basically our bestseller and a type of knife that pretty much every household has.
Some of the knives on the market nowadays come with protective sheathes. Which is a very good thing. So taking our motto of "Even the simplest things can be made better and smarter," we asked ourselves what could we improve with the knife sheath.
We came up with a solution that not only protects the product but also protects the user from getting hurt, by designing this sheath: You take the dirty knife, you put it back into the sheath, and you place it into the dishwasher while it's still inside the sheath. Why? Because what most people maybe don't know is that knives don't get blunt when you use them--they get blunt through being banged around in storage or in the dishwasher. This product allows you to keep the product sharp in the dishwasher or in the drawer, and also prevents the danger of cutting yourself when you open/unload either of these things. Especially when there's kids around the household, that exposed sharp edge is something you want to avoid. So it's really a relatively simple idea that made the product a little better.
Here's another thing we looked at: Keeping knives sharp seems to be a big mystery to most people. I mean professional chefs hone their knives regularly, every time before they use them, but for the normal consumer that's traditionally been a challenge. So we have a product here that we've been selling already for many years with great success, our famous Roll-Sharp. We've now made it a little bit better and a little bit better looking.
You basically run the knife through it, just a couple of times like this, and then you have a sharp knife again. And this design can just be opened up, and placed into the dishwasher, it's perfectly clean and hygienic. Again, nothing revolutionary, but it is just something that can be made a little bit better and a little bit smarter.
Now I talked a lot about product features, now I want to talk a bit about design. One thing that we learned from our studies with the consumers was very clearly that design matters. And it's not so much about the most striking design or the most visually unique design, but it's a lot about what we call harmony. When we go to actual kitchens in say, Germany, for example, we found that most of the kitchen items are usually visible. Why is that? It is because the implements that you are using constantly are either waiting by the sink or the worksurface, ready to be used again. Or you simply might not have the storage space to put everything away into a drawer.
This contrasts with the advertisements you often see, where companies show photos of these nice, clean design kitchens. The reality seems somehow different. So we realized that making products that create visual noise can become a problem. You might not want to buy too many of our products if they are just cluttering your kitchen surface. So our new design approach is to make essentials. We don't want to make gimmicks, we will not have a strawberry corer in our range. we make tools that you really need, everyday tools that are multifunctional, allowing you to reduce the clutter and buy less tools. And tools that when left on the worksurface do not disturb the visual appearance of your kitchen. And that's what we call design harmony.
On top of that, our ambition is to make products that are not only easy to use, they're also easy to clean, easy to store, easy to maintain. Based upon that thinking we set out to renew our kitchen offerings, [which will begin to launch in] September of this year in Europe. Our "Functional Form" product range will then be updated with new products pretty much every half-year.
» Part 1: Masters of the Cut
» Part 2: Building Longevity through "Functionality, Innovation & Design"
» Part 3: Fiskamin, Beautiful Plastic Tableware from 1961
» Part 4: The Kitchen Strategy - How Do You Design for a Saturated Market?
» BONUS: True I.D. Stories #26 - Accidental Orange and the Democratization of the Scissors