If I hadn't been in a postpartum brain fog for the past three years, perhaps I would have noticed some of the designer organizational solutions offered up by simplehuman. From ergonomic frosted dishracks and press-and-tear paper towel holders to the brand's signature stainless-steel butterfly trash can—complete with a hydraulically operated quiet-close lid that opens from the center to maximize under-the-counter space—many of the brand’s products could have helped me tackle the most mundane of household chores more efficiently as I took care of my growing brood.
Simplehuman's philosophy is stated quite succinctly on its website: "We all have daily tasks we want to do faster, things that take up too much space, and projects we want to organize. Simplehuman is committed to designing products that help efficiently achieve these goals." The company's products incorporate innovative engineering elements into a slick, aesthetically pleasing package. (Even the design of simplehuman's site errs on the side of eye-catching minimalism, right down to the ee cummings-style lower-case typography. Apparently, capital letters would take up too much space—and that just wouldn't be very efficient.)
To think that these good-looking household products could actually minimize the drudgery of everyday chores—at least that’s the unspoken promise of the simplehuman brand, tantalizing prospective users with utilitarian products that can double as home-design accessories. A stunning modular dishrack, for example, allows users to add and remove accessories as needed to make space for dishware, while many of the brand's garbage cans come with motion dampers to make sure the lid closes with a whisper instead of a slam.
Simplehuman likely doesn't care about those who would balk at spending close to US$200 for an upscale repository for their refuse, since that's not who the brand's radar is honed in on. Its target female audience embraces a sleek, spartan approach to home décor and has always been secretly uncomfortable about unsightly garbage-bag "overhang.” This consumer has no problem dropping top dollar for home supplies, as evidenced by some of the arguably overpriced retail outlets where the brand’s products are sold, including Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma. The brand’s editorial media blitz includes featured appearances in trendy high-end home magazines like Dwell and Domino, as well as gourmet cooking publications like Food & Wine and Bon Appetit; strategic product placement has infiltrated such hot TV shows as Lost, Nip/Tuck, and Desperate Housewives.
Simplehuman doesn't quit reminding potential customers that the brand not only promotes functionality and feats of design engineering—it's also a brand that’s fully versed in 21st-century technology and social interfaces. A blog on its site features conversations with such company bigwigs as founder/CEO/design director Frank Yang, as well as a bountiful archive of handy life-simplification techniques and tips, from baking a Super Bowl Sunday cake to cleaning sneakers, applying skin bronzer, and buying a puppy. And, just to assure its place on the hip list, simplehuman even created its own iTunes playlist in 2006.
The progression of simplehuman is literally an example of one man's trash evolving into every homeowner's treasure. Yang was brainstorming one day about the next big housewares product when his hideous kitchen garbage can inspired a home solutions revolution. Since the company's beginnings in 2001, Yang has become a walking billboard of sorts for the brand, constantly on the lookout for ways to improve upon his products. He even confesses on his blog that you can often find him skulking in the aisles of retail outlets where simplehuman is carried. "During my store visits, I often find myself talking to people either about our products or other items in their shopping carts," he explains on the site. "Whether I'm acting as a salesman, listening to feedback, [or] answering concerns, I find these store visits are invaluable. There is no better way to understand what consumers care about and [to] learn what features and price points are important. Sometimes I even come up with new product ideas in the store."
Simplehuman is also an advocate for inspiring others to create, a la the American Inventor TV program. Just this year, the company launched an annual simple solutions design competition for product-design students (this year's winners dreamed up a countertop pot-and-pan holder, a dog food holder/dispenser, and a tote bag that catches mail slipped through door slots).
The company has definitely made an impression on the home solutions landscape, more or less leaving most of its direct competition in the dustbunnies. Another well-known household solutions brand, OXO, offers many similar organizational items, but its mission statement is decidedly different. OXO touts its "universal design" (the design of products usable by "as many people as possible... young and old, male and female, left- and right-handed and many with special needs"). Simplehuman's products, on the other hand, are meant to transcend pure functionality and don’t seem to be targeted to every homeowner on the planet—their main purpose is trying to conquer household clutter one well-manicured, high-per-capita-income home at a time.
Meanwhile, Umbra manufactures what it touts as “casual, contemporary, affordable design for the home,” which seems to be pushing form over function. Its droplet soap pump would look real pretty on the cover of Martha Stewart Living, but can it beat the practicality of simplehuman’s space-age-style, sensor-activated soap dispenser when the kids come traipsing into the bathroom after an afternoon of mud fights?
Simplehuman's high price point could still be perceived as somewhat of an obstacle to the average homeowner, but there are some more reasonable items in the lineup (a $10 grocery-bag holder, for example, won't break the bank and will keep the polyethylene-plastic pandemonium that usually plagues the underbelly of most kitchen sinks to a minimum). And with infiltration into Bed Bath & Beyond and Target, as well as features in Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, and Parenting magazines, simplehuman is making inroads with middle America in addition to its core audience: the organizational elite.
Who knows? Before you know it, homeowners may be polishing their garbage cans as often as they do their silver.