Precision. Plastics. Usability. And how a pair of scissors’ design made it a kitchen staple.
Can you hear sharp? Yes you can, if it is a pair of scissors: pull the blades open and close them repeatedly, it sounds just like what we might hear if we slide two knives against each other. Listen to the video below (for 10-20 seconds) – the sound has even been made into sound effects!
The blades of a scissors are precisely engineered and manufactured to be very sharp so that they cut cleanly. How sharp are they? If we run our fingers along the blades – and are not careful – we can actually cut ourselves!
But cutting sharply is just one reason the scissors became such a popular kitchen tool. A lot of it also came down to a design that took advantage of new materials, and was friendly to use.A pair of scissors is highly usable. Because it is a lever, we can control the cutting force simply by changing where along the blades we cut the food (read how in the 1-Minute NomNom “Et tu, Brute force?” Scissors asked“).
That is when we cut, closing the blades by applying pressure at the handles with the fleshy parts of our thumb and fingers. When the blades are opened however, the design of the handles had to be sensitive to how the “skin on the top of the fingers is not thick or pressure-resistant“.
Hence the surface area of each handle where the top of our thumb and fingers make contact are both made as wide as possible to distribute the pressure the handles exert against the top of our thumb and fingers (remember that Pressure = Force/Area). The handle for the fingers is also longer, distributing the pressure further across the fingers.
With the advent of plastics in the 1960s, a company by the name of Fiskars replaced the handles with plastic ones.The handles used to be made entirely of metal (when scissors were invented in the 1880s), making them heavy and less than ideal for extended periods of use. Plastic, like metal, could withstand stress and was impact resistant, but was not as heavy, making the scissors much lighter and easier to hold and wield.
Moreover, using plastic materials also meant we could play with colors. The subsequent choice of bright colors such as orange and red for the plastic handles made a pair of scissors easy to find in the clutter of a drawer or kitchen top. It also gave the design a distinctive look, and was a cheerful colorful addition to the kitchen.
For all these reasons, it is no wonder then that in the book Deconstructing Product Design by William Lidwell and Gerry Manacsa, the scissors scored full marks on aesthetics, function, usability, sustainability and commercial success. It also earned a spot in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In kitchen tools design, the scissors are a cut above the rest.
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