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  • March 25, 2010

OXO Good Grips: What Is Good for those with Disabilities Is Good for Everyone

by Andrés T. Tapia — As he watched his wife cook and saw how hard arthritis made it for her to use a fruit peeler Sam Farber, an entrepreneur who had founded the successful kitchenware business Copco and who had just retired at 66, wondered as he saw the pained expression on Betsey’s face, “Why can’t there be comfortable kitchen tools that are easy to use?” 

So Sam Farber decided to unretire and establish OXO International to produce kitchenware for users who were older and who had disabilities. Farber chose the name because its accessibility–it could be read horizontally, vertically, or upside down. This is a spirited company whose self-named OXOnians relish in its uniqueness. (Click here and scroll to the bottom of web page for OXOnian humor including creative and unorthodox uses for OXO products.)


And what began as a line for a neglected group, became a sensation with members of all groups who loved the fun look and easy-to-use features. Introducing 15 products in 1990, OXO reported an annual growth rate of 37% ten years later, with about $60 million in annual sales. Today, another ten years later, OXO continues to boast an annual growth rate in sales of more than 30%, with over 800 products in its line.With little spent on advertising, the inviting design of OXO’s products have made them the subjects of numerous print features and TV news shows.subcatagory_canjarbottle

“Despite all the powerful demographic indicators indicating the profitability of providing products and services for our increasingly diverse world, and despite important legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says Jim Mueller, chair of the Universal Design Section of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), “nearly all of the influential companies leading the charge for universal design were influenced more by personal experiences like those of Farber.”

Think about it. Although Farber had spent 39 years in the kitchenware business before founding OXO, his most innovative designs were born when personal experience with the diversity issues of aging and disability — in this case watching his wife Betsey peeling apples in the kitchen — brought the importance of inclusion home.

When it comes to innovation, business guru Peter Drucker says that the “best opportunities are visible but not seen.” Practicing the the Inclusion Paradox— looking for and constructively calling out differences — is a practical way to see what is hidden in plain sight. It puts into practice the promise that diversity can lead to greater innovation. It’s what Sam Farber profitably discovered — and in the process brought inclusion to the kitchen. 

How can your unique and diverse perspective help your organization see opportunities in a new light?

    • Ayesha Shah
    • March 30, 2010

    Great point! exposure has a lot to do with the out of box thinking… we are much too bound by our views & perspectives, brodening those through education and experience definitely has its advantages… 🙂

    • Ayesha Shah
    • March 29, 2010

    Another awesome piece!
    “Although Farber had spent 39 years in the kitchenware business before founding OXO, his most innovative designs were born when personal experience with the diversity issues of aging and disability.” — this drives it home…
    Thanks Andrés


    • I often get asked, “but how does one think outside the box?” To which I always reply, “First you have to get out of the box! Meet new people, see how others from different disciplines see the same issue, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, travel to new places, read books and blogs by people you don’t agree with, drink soup with a straw, ask a dancer how a call center should be run….”

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