Fast Company

The Power of Shape Shifters

Three companies reinvent the paraphernalia of everyday life with an eye on aesthetics, utility--and profits.

Putting Some Style in Tile

In early 2007, Tarkett--the world's largest resilient-flooring manufacturer, with $2.5 billion in 2006 revenue--asked industrial designer Karim Rashid to create a new range of tile colors. He delivered a dazzling palette of bubblegum hues. But the real innovation came as Tarkett built its traveling trade-show booth for '07. Rashid proposed that the tiles, typically square, be cut into a variety of interlocking shapes. "When we saw it on paper, we didn't think much of it," says Diane Martel, Tarkett's VP of marketing. "When we saw it installed, we thought, 'Wow, this is a cool floor.'"

It became even cooler when Tarkett realized the tiles were quicker to install than squares, whose seams are harder to align perfectly. In June, Karim Kolors won a Gold Award at NeoCon, the annual commercial-furnishings fair, and now Tarkett hopes to win customers. Nearly 1.5 billion square feet of commercial resilient flooring is sold in the U.S. each year, with basic tiles starting at less than $2 a square foot. Tarkett believes the novel design and ease of use of Karim Kolors means the tiles merit the list price of $6 to $7 a square foot.

Just Sit There and Look Pretty

Executives at Home Depot were surprised by the fire-safety statistics: Fewer than half of U.S. households have a fire extinguisher, and the majority of people who have one can't remember where they store it. "People hide their fire extinguishers because they look terrible," says Winston Ledet, VP of Orange Works, a new design lab set up by Home Depot and the Arnell Group, a self-described "invention" firm that has worked with Samsung, Reebok, and Pepsi. "The design challenge was to create a kitchen fire extinguisher that people would proudly keep on their countertops."

Their solution (and Orange Works' first product): the Home Hero, which looks like the iPod's useful but far less entertaining cousin. But the changes aren't only aesthetic. Most people instinctively use two hands with a conventional extinguisher, but once the Home Hero's pin is pulled, you just press a simple switch to trigger the foam. At $24.97, it's priced in the middle of the home extinguisher range.

A Different Tack

"One side effect of being an innovative company is that every crackpot in the world who's inventing things is contacting you," says Alex Lee, president of OXO, which grosses more than $150 million a year selling its reinvented household doodads. "Every now and then, something catches our attention."

The MagTack was that something. The idea for a magnet-cum-thumbtack that can hold a photograph or a document without making a hole came from designer Priscilla Barton, who, by day, creates bags at Lowepro. She reworked the tack after seeing her drawings ruined by being pinned to walls. She pitched her notion to OXO, which bought it and translated the product into its pleasantly plump design language.

The new tack, out in January, will be pricier ($6.99 for eight) than old-style ones (under $1 for dozens). But OXO knows shoppers will pay a premium for good design. "We came out with a bag clip that was nicely designed, with a soft grip and a magnet, when bag clips were six for $1," Lee says. "We sold them for $1.50 each--and we sold millions."

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