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Extra Ordinary

Designers Are Turning Plain-Jane Tools Into Everyday Objects of Beauty


A pretty putty knife?

After decades of turning out products for the business world, industrial designers and manufacturers are increasingly looking at the home. As a result, even the humblest tools are taking on an aesthetic sheen.

"We are seeing more and more recognition of good design in everyday objects," said Lou Lenzi, vice president of multimedia products and services for Thomson Consumer Electronics.

He chaired the jury that awarded 142 gold, silver and bronze design winners in all categories this year for the Industrial Design Society of America. "We had 1,000 entries and it was heartening to see the number of consumer products, right down to the simple hand-held tools you buy at the hardware store," Lenzi said. "There is a strong component in design geared toward the consumer."

That's because the consumer is more visually sophisticated, he said. "The MTV and 'Sesame Street' generations grew up with a sensitivity to visual communications and it naturally starts being reflected in everyday objects."

Today's designers are thinking about beauty as well as practicality, he said, even while making no-nonsense appliances and household gadgets. "The competition of the global marketplace has been a boon for the consumer."

Not only can a well-designed product make your life easier, it also says something about your values, he said. "When done appropriately, an aesthetic product can give you a sense of pride of ownership--even if it's just a putty knife."

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