Sam Farber (1924–2013) was an inclusive design pioneer. Most people have held his path-breaking work in their hands, but few know the true story behind it.
In 1988, Farber, a serial housewares entrepreneur, was on vacation with his wife, Betsey. While cooking in the French countryside, the two loathed the uncomfortable handle of their vegetable peeler, which made peeling fruits and vegetables a painful chore. It sparked an “aha” moment that would lead to much more than just a better vegetable peeler.
The OXO peeler that resulted from the Farbers’ culinary struggle is both simple and revolutionary. The oversized, rubbery handle was a bold choice for the time, and the hollowed-out spots, covered with “fins” inspired by bike handles, beckon people to pick it up, gently squeeze the fins, and instantly recognize a better grip. But the design was far more than an improvement on existing designs—it could also be comfortably used by those who suffer from arthritis in their hands. Farber knew that the peeler had to be better for anyone and everyone to reach those that needed it the most. As such, the creation of the OXO peeler was a flashpoint for inclusive, or universal, design.
Most of the products on ID’s new list are likely to be found in a typical United States domicile, such as the OXO Good Grips Peeler (#6) and Post-It Notes (#15). The shift, ID purports, is indicative of how design has changed from an industry mainly concerned with aesthetics and luxury to one that more widely recognizes the value of function and the needs of everyone, not just the wealthy.
Farber was a friend of the Institute of Design and served on its Board of Advisors. The Sam Farber Fellowship was started by his former colleagues at Smart Design who wish to keep his legacy alive through the design practices taught at ID. The fellowship supports ID students, particularly those with an interest in improving lives of consumers, who are integrating design with business practices and/or becoming entrepreneurs themselves.