The spork is sort of the ultimate kludge of a design. Take a spoon, put some tines at the end, and voila: you have an eating utensil that isn’t quite as good as either half of its portmanteau. Things get even messier when you throw in a knife, resulting in the so-called splayd, or sporf. (“Sporf?” Horf.) Depending on how the blade is positioned, you either get half a knife shoved in your mouth, or you get a knife in the palm. Brilliant.
Whether you call it a spork, a splayed, or a sporf, Map–the London-based design consultancy (previously)–thinks they may have finally perfected it. They teamed up with Fortnum & Mason, the 300-year-old U.K. department store, to create a tritensil that combines the best parts of a fork, knife, and spoon, substantially less clumsily than previous attempts.
“It’s inherently a compromise to combine three different utensils into one design,” says Scott Barwick, a designer and associate at Map. “If you have a spoon with tines, you can’t eat soup with it; likewise, a round, concave fork isn’t as good at spearing food as a regular one.” Going in, then, Map knew there would be compromises in designing a new three-in-one utensil for Fortnum & Mason. The only question was how well those compromises could be balanced.
For the tritensil, Map has favored an ergonomic, asymmetric design that combines a fork’s tines, a spoon’s curve, and a knife’s serrated edge in such a way that each feature’s effectiveness is maximized. Holding the tritensil in your hand, the tines of the fork slant downwards, allowing you to pierce food with the edge. The serrated knife edge, meanwhile, faces in the opposite direction, and is part of the soup’s bowl, unlike splayds where one of the tines is essentially a large knife. “People don’t really like shoving a knife in their mouth, so we wanted to minimize how much people needed to do that,” says Barwick. The serrations on the tritensil are also softer than a normal knife, making it nearly impossible to cut yourself on that edge.
The tritensil isn’t designed to eat everything with. It’s been design to cater to the kinds of foods included in Fortnum & Mason’s Hamperling, a picnicking snack pack that crams a traditional English tea into a box, as well as other items the department store sells in its café. Cutting a steak, spooning up a vichyssoise, or eating a plate of spaghetti would probably be challenging, but for cutting a scone, eating some yogurt, or eating a salad, the tritensil is ideal.
According to Map, they were originally approached to design the tritensil after previously having worked on the plastic cutlery that came in the Hamperling. The tritensil was born out of a desire to reduce the costs of cutlery, and the idea of doing so by embracing the spork made a sort of cultural sense for Fortnum & Mason. “They have this memory as part of the company’s heritage that they invented the first spork in the War,” says Barwick. Technically, this probably isn’t true: spork patents go back to 1874, and in their research, Map couldn’t actually find any direct evidence of a Fortnum & Mason spork. But it did indicate to Map that their client would be proud to embrace such a utensil, if one were custom designed for them.
And they have. Fortnum & Mason have started giving away plastic tritensils in their café as of last week, and are also selling a stainless steel version for die-hards. Due to its asymmetric design, the tritensil is available in versions suitable for both lefties and righties. A left-handed spork? It’s like something Ned Flanders would sell at The Leftorium. But it was the best way to avoid many of the spork’s other inherent compromises.
“No, it’s not the best fork, it’s not the best knife, and it’s not the best spoon. We don’t think it ever will be,” says Barwick. “But the spork is a very difficult design problem, and we’ve tackled it as best we can. The result, we think, is a really strong design.” And until programmable materials get cheap enough that you can make sporks out of them? The tritensil will be probably continue to be the best spork, or splayd, or sporf design on the planet.