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By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

A Cut Above the Rest: How Finland's Orange-Handled Scissors Inspired a Design Revolution

By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Finland is home to brands like Marimekko and Artek, and has produced architects and designers like Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. But you don’t need to go shopping or visit Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, to fully appreciate the nation’s design legacy. All you likely have to do is open a kitchen drawer, office closet, or garage toolbox and pull out a pair of orange, plastic-handled scissors.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize the maker—Fiskars Corporation, the Finnish consumer goods company—you’ve likely used these lightweight shears at least once while sewing, gardening, or wrapping presents. More than 1 billion pairs have been sold since they first hit the market in 1967, and in Finland, the word “Fiskars” is even synonymous with scissors. Their ubiquity, though, isn’t without reason: As the world’s first plastic-handled scissors, they’re considered a game-changer in the field of industrial design.

Scissors are likely thousands of years old, and were used by everyone from the ancient Egyptians to members of China’s Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 CE). Fiskars itself—which was founded in 1649, in Fiskars Village, Finland—has manufactured the tools for centuries. The brand was once known for forging quality metal scissors that were used in tailoring clothes and upholstering furniture. But these tools were “quite, quite heavy,” and cumbersome to use, Jay Gillespie, the company’s vice president of marketing, tells Mental Floss.

Olof Bäckström, the Finnish industrial designer who created Fiskar's famous orange-handled scissors.
Olof Bäckström, the Finnish industrial designer who created Fiskars's famous orange-handled scissors.
Courtesy of Fiskars

This changed in the 1960s, as plastic was just starting to become a popular material. Fiskars began using the light, strong compound to make tabletops and dishes, but one of the company's industrial designers, Olof Bäckström, sensed an opportunity to completely reinvent one of the company’s signature goods. Using plastic, he created a lighter scissor handle that was curved to fit the hand, thus making them easier to hold. Ultimately, this tweak also helped make the scissors easier to manufacture, helping them become affordable to the masses.

With a single prototype, “we completely redefined a product,” Gillespie says. “Today it’s very hard to find scissors that don’t have plastic handles.”

Bäckström didn’t technically invent the concept of ergonomically designed scissors, as Fiskars had been casting similar designs in metal for years, Gillespie says. However, the designer “probably took it to the next level,” he concludes, as he “solved the problem of weight and fit.”

Fiskars scissors over the ages
Fiskars scissors over the ages
Courtesy of Fiskars

Bäckström originally wanted his scissors to be black. But at the time, Fiskars was making orange juicers from—you guessed it—orange plastic. The first prototype for plastic-handled scissors was created with plastic from a juicer that was left in a machine. Fiskars employees ended up liking this original look so much that they ultimately voted to stick with it.

Prototypes of Fiskars scissors in black and orange
Prototypes of Fiskars scissors in black and orange
Courtesy of Fiskars

Save for a few minor tweaks, like a more durable plastic handle and an improved angle, the scissors’s original design has remained largely unchanged since Bäckström’s initial stroke of genius. They eventually became so iconic that competitors began copying their look, forcing the Finnish company to trademark their signature “Fiskars Orange.” Today, Fiskars is the only brand in the world that’s allowed to manufacture orange-handled scissors in the U.S., Canada, and Finland, according to Gillespie.

For all these reasons—and to mark the product's 50th birthday in 2017—the Design Museum Helsinki has created an ongoing exhibition that celebrates the utilitarian household staple. The “Our Scissors” exhibition, which ends on October 29, features works by artists and designers who use (or simply appreciate) orange-handled scissors. They include contributions from fashion designer Tracy Reese, Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney, and other creative influencers, all of whom sing the praises of a tiny Finnish tool that ended up taking the world by storm.

"Our Scissors Exhibit," a special art collection inspired by the orange-handled scissors created by Fiskars, on display at the Helsinki Design Museum.
"Our Scissors Exhibit," a special art collection inspired by the orange-handled scissors created by Fiskars, on display at the Helsinki Design Museum.
Courtesy of Fiskars
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Pop Chart Lab
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Comics
The Origins of 36 Marvel Characters, Illustrated
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

No matter what their powers, every super hero has an origin story, from Spider-Man’s radioactive bite to Iron Man’s life-threatening chest shrapnel. In their latest poster, the designers at Pop Chart Lab have taken their infographic savvy to the Marvel Universe, charting the heroic origins of 36 different Marvel characters through miniature, minimalist comics.

Without using any words, they’ve managed to illustrate Bucky Barnes's plane explosion and subsequent transformation into the Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones’s car crash, the death of the Punisher’s family, and other classic stories from the major Marvel canon while paying tribute to the comic book form.

Explore the poster below, and see a zoomable version on Pop Chart Lab’s website.

A poster featuring 36 minimalist illustrations of superhero origin stories.
Pop Chart Lab

Keep your eyes open for future Marvel-Pop Chart crossovers. The Marvel Origins: A Sequential Compendium poster is “the first release of what we hope to be a marvelous partnership,” as Pop Chart Lab’s Galvin Chow puts it. Prints are available for pre-order starting at $37 and are scheduled to start shipping on March 8.

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iStock
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technology
The Design Tricks That Make Smartphones Addictive—And How to Fight Them
iStock
iStock

Two and a half billion people worldwide—and 77 percent of Americans—have smartphones, which means you probably have plenty of company in your inability to go five minutes without checking your device. But as a new video from Vox points out, it's not that we all lack self-control: Your phone is designed down to the tiniest details to keep you as engaged as possible. Vox spoke to Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, who explains how your push notifications, the "pull to refresh" feature of certain apps (inspired by slot machines), and the warm, bright colors on your phone are all meant to hook you. Fortunately, he also notes there's things you can do to lessen the hold, from the common sense (limit your notifications) to the drastic (go grayscale). Watch the whole thing to learn all the dirty details—and then see how long you can spend without looking at your phone.

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