OXO Fails: The Bagel Grip
Words Valerie Liston
Back in 1997, when OXO was still a pretty young company, we noticed two things: New Yorkers love bagels and cutting bagels is hard. We read reports of bagel-slicing injuries and struggled to split those hunks of bready glory apart ourselves. The thing about round food is that it doesn’t like to stay in one place. So, a person’s first instinct is to hold it—add a knife to the mix and no good can come out of it.
So we put our minds to it and came up with a thoughtful solution: The Bagel Grip.
The Bagel Grip was the perfect solution (or so we thought)! The flexible walls were lined with wavy ridges for a firm grip on the bagel, the large knob was comfortable to hold, and the non-slip feet kept the Bagel Grip in place. Now the knife would hit the inside of the Bagel Grip, where there was a strip not unlike a cutting board, instead of the palm of someone’s hand. It was ingenious.
When the final product was ready, OXOnians packed up all of their new products, Bagel Grip included, and set off for the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, where they were going to show off their new idea to retailers. They picked up some bagels from a local shop and decided to do a quick runthrough before their first meeting. And lucky they did, because they realized, suddenly and certainly, that Chicago-style bagels didn’t fit in the Bagel Grip.
While testing the product, they had ordered bagels from different places all over New York City, never stopping to wonder if bagels were different shapes or sizes in other cities. But Chicago bagels are smaller and denser. So they pulled the Bagel Grip from the Housewares Show that year and vowed to do better next time.
They had to laugh in the face of their “failure”—a company founded on the concept of universal design had made a product with a handle, like all our handles, shaped for every hand, but forgot to make it sized for every bagel!
A lot has changed since 1997. Now, almost 20 years later, the Legend of the Bagel Grip lives on at OXO HQ, and even brand-new OXOnians are learning from it. When developing the Avocado Slicer, over 700 avocados were tested, of all shapes and sizes. Our Butter Dish is designed to hold long, lean butter sticks (from the East coast) or short, wide ones (from the West coast); more on that here.
Just the other day, I was in the kitchen while our product team tested more sizes of eggs than I even knew existed. Our products are even sent overseas to our counterparts in other countries to make sure all bases are covered.
Plus, the Bagel Grip inspired what is now the Grape & Small Tomato Slicing Guide. The design has evolved from its original form, but it was a jumping off point for the designers and engineers as they found a way to keep grapes and small tomatoes in place so they could be sliced in half.
Surely more mistakes will be made, surely more products will seem like great ideas at the start but might not make it to market, but more importantly, we learn from every mistake, and we see each miscalculation as a way and a reason to improve.
“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.” —Frank Wilczek