Monday, November 1, 2010

All Forked Up

More often than should happen, designers do not fully consider the usability of their product. Often where design aesthetic negatively affects functionality is with products which are unsuitable for left-handed people. There are many instances where southpaws have a harder time because of poor design, but one especially taxing area is that of flatware. Particularly common in vintage silverware sets are forks and spoons which are molded with a curvature that contours nicely with the inside of the right hand, but curve in sharply and stab when held in the left hand. An especially prejudiced flatware design was Wallace “Ballet Pattern” Stainless Steel Flatware, a series first begun in 1955. In effect, a left-handed person has to hold a Wallace “Ballet” fork in an entirely new manner from how he/she normally does when using flatware such as this. Numerous issues have arisen from such poor design, including one sad example where a left-handed child was forced to endure years of slightly uncomfortable family dinners because using the Wallace silverware which, in the family for decades, was more important than procuring equally accommodating forks and spoons.

Fortunately, it appears that Wallace designers have finally learned their lesson, as they discontinued the “Ballet Pattern” in 1983. Its legacy, however, is a part of a much larger cultural insensitivity to lefties, which includes among many things scissors, cameras, and many of the desks of this very university. Fortunately, we have hope that history won’t repeat the Wallace mistake. Some pioneers for the left-handed, both real (like Mundial Ambidextrous Sewing Scissors), or fictitious (e.g. Ned Flanders’ Leftorium on Simpsons – where everything stocked is designed for left-handers) are helping ensure that lessons have been learned from the erroneous design of the Wallace “Ballet Pattern” Stainless Steel forks and spoons.

Ned Flander's "Leftorium" on The Simpsons

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