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

Hong Kong's Peculiar Architecture Can Be Explained by Feng Shui

iStock
iStock

Most people are familiar with feng shui—the ancient Chinese art of arranging one's environment to maximize good energy—as it applies to interior design. But you don't need to walk into a building to see feng shui at work in Hong Kong: It's baked into the skyline.

This video from Vox examines how feng shui has shaped the design of Hong Kong's skyscrapers. Some of the most extreme examples are dragon gates: large holes cut out of the center of buildings. The idea is that dragons, which are said to live in the mountains behind the city, will be able to fly through the openings and into the water. If their passage is blocked, bad luck will befall any buildings in their way.

Some superstitious design features are a little more subtle. In the lobby of the HSBC building, the escalators are positioned at a strange angle to fend off the bad energy flowing into the space. When Hong Kong Disneyland hired a feng shui consultant (a real and lucrative job), they were told to shift the entrance 12 degrees to keep chi from flowing out.

But not every architect in Hong Kong takes feng shui into account. The Bank of China Tower is infamous for its sharp angles, which feng shui experts claim damages the positive energy around it. Anything bad that happens to the surrounding businesses is immediately blamed on the tower, and the neighboring HSBC building even installed cranes that are meant to combat any bad luck it radiates.

You can watch the full story below.

[h/t Vox]

How Makeup Artists Transformed Heath Ledger Into The Joker in 'The Dark Knight'

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Heath Ledger gets most of the credit for reinventing The Joker with his performance in the 2008 film The Dark Knight. But creating a look for the character that diverged from the comic books was a collaborative process, and makeup artist John Caglione Jr. played an essential role.

In an interview with IGN, Caglione reflected on the makeup he did for The Dark Knight that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Unlike his work on movies like Dick Tracy (1990) and Chaplin (1992), precision wasn't the goal in this case. Instead, he wanted to give The Joker an organic appearance that matched director Christopher Nolan's realistic take on Gotham City and a crazed style that reflected the character's unpredictable nature.

"What would it be if this guy slept in his makeup?" he said in the interview. "If he didn't spruce up his makeup for two weeks? You think of a clown's makeup and for the most part they're pretty detailed with sharp lines, but this had to be the opposite of that."

Caglione worked with Ledger to scrunch and contort his face as he applied the makeup—an old trick borrowed from theater. This method resulted in lines and creases in the paint that made it look like the character had been wearing his makeup for days.

The makeup artist also drew inspiration from classic art and cinema when crafting the character. At the start of the design process, Nolan sent Caglione a book of abstract Francis Bacon portraits for him to reference. During the interrogation scene, The Joker's dark eye makeup is smudged above his eyebrows, a nod to Eric Campbell who played the villain in many Charlie Chaplin films.

You can watch the full interview below.

[h/t IGN]

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