Cutting edge cutlery

One of the most challenging things you can embark on as a designer is cutlery. The team at IKEA have tried to unlock the secrets of the perfect eating utensils.

What is the most difficult item to design for the home? Asking a designer, they might say a chair, but chances are just as likely they would say cutlery. At design schools, it’s a reoccurring theme in the curriculum. IKEA Product Developer Andrew Deverell explains why: “It’s such an intimate object and one that we use so frequently in our daily life. There are so many factors in cutlery that you have to get just right, and at least three of our senses give it away as soon as we don’t.”

The team is developing a new set of cutlery for the IKEA 365+ collection. ”We haven’t had a 365 cutlery the last few years, so we wanted to make something that would fit into that modern range.”

There are so many factors in cutlery that you have to get just right, and at least three of our senses give it away as soon as we don’t.

They are making a 24-piece set consisting of fork, spoon, knife and teaspoon, a 56-piece set adding dessert spoons, salad forks, and salad knives. There will also be a serving set with a sauce ladle and cake slicer.

Embarking on the task, they did extensive research. “IKEA has done a lot of studies about how people eat, and we have added to these. Among other things, we did a home test to collect feedback from people with different eating habits and cultural origins. We had people with European, Chinese and Indian background eating vegetables, noodles and rice curries. Eating noodles with chopsticks tastes differently than with a fork for instance.”

IKEA Product Developer Andrew Deverell.
IKEA Product Developer Andrew Deverell.
Two prototypes for the new IKEA 365+ cutlery; one plastic, one metal.
Two prototypes for the new IKEA 365+ cutlery; one plastic, one metal.

Which brings us to the difficulty of cutlery development. “There are so many different aspects of getting right: the feel of holding the cutlery, the weight and the balance of it in your hand. The feel of the fork or spoon in your mouth, how well it functions holding the food, and how it interacts with the actual type of food you are eating.”

According to Andrew Deverell, the taste of the food differs depending on what utensils you eat with. “If you eat with chopsticks, the wood of the sticks is part of the taste experience. And depending on how long and thick the prongs of a fork are designed, the oxygen passing when the food leaves it, like wine, lets flavours mature and richen. So, the taste of the same food will be altered depending on you using a fork or a spoon.”

There are so many factors in cutlery that you have to get just right, and at least three of our senses give it away as soon as we don’t.

While researching, he went to second-hand stores and bought all sorts of cutlery and compared them to more modern designs. Evaluating cutlery from a user perspective is very intuitive. Something that appears one way can get an added meaning or deeper feel to it when you pick it up and tactile sensors add to the overall perception. Beauty has to be supported by a high degree of functionality. “It is really interesting to study how people pick up and use cutlery because it happens so unconsciously and most of the time those we interviewed couldn’t describe what they did or why they preferred something on an intellectual level. They just did.”

Compared to, especially some of the antique cutlery, it was important to Andrew that the user-threshold was as low as possible. “A lot of cutlery doesn’t work properly or is too flamboyant. Here we have tried to design something that is functional from the point you pick it up; you don’t need to learn to love it or adapt your hand to it. It just works.”

While researching, the team went to second-hand stores and bought all sorts of cutlery and compared them to more modern designs.
While researching, the team went to second-hand stores and bought all sorts of cutlery and compared them to more modern designs.

Another challenge was to match the design with the existing 365+ range of china. “Our team and designer Ola Wihlborg, who has worked a lot with 365+ over the years, has done a great job linking the design nicely into the 365+ family. For example, he’s made the curve of the fork relating to the curve of the 365+ mug and picked up the curve of the 365+ plates in the spoons.”

A new generation of homeowners also tend to eat a lot on the sofa in front of a screen, Andrew explains. “For that reason and accommodating to East Asia the curve of the spoon is subtly less round to make breaking up food easier.”

He describes the design as being quite slim. “We have concentrated on making something elegant in design with a balanced handle that produces minimal material waste when manufactured. Working together with our supplier on design and packaging, we have been able to both cut costs, add value and be more sustainable.”

Right now, the team is trying to agree on the sharpness of the knife. “If the handle is too heavy, the cutting gets more difficult, so we have put more weight into the blade. Meeting our safety requirements means it can’t be too sharp but you still have to be able to cut your steak with it. So we are adding a serration, which will make the sharpness last longer. That’s our status on the project right now.”

The new IKEA 365+ cutlery will be ready for launch in October 2018.

Dinner for the many. Part of the design process was testing many types of cutlery.
Dinner for the many. Part of the design process was testing many types of cutlery.