Why Should We Care About Fork Design?

When you’re eating, how many times to you intentionally think about your fork? It’s a tool we rarely think twice about, yet something we use every day. At a restaurant we’ll swap forks if it’s dirty, but if it’s too heavy, small, or awkward we tend to just accept it. Why? Besides the design of the ‘spork,’ which is more commonly used in fast food and military arenas due to is dual use as a spoon and fork, there haven’t been enormous design innovations in the fork. In Donald Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things,” he states “well-designed objects are easy to interpret and understand. They contain visible clues to their operation,” (p. 2). In essence, the fork is a good design for the purpose of eating, but when designers try to be too creative issues can arise.


As Norman describes in his door example, the fork is simply understood. But the ease of understanding contextual. If you are unaware of what a fork it, you can visualize a use for either end, although it is more likely you would pick the pronged or ‘tined’ end to do something with. In the context of a dinner party, it is easy to understand you’d this instrunment for the action of spearing your food, but what if you found a fork in the forest? Stumbling upon this item in the forest you could guess this to be a weapon, an agricultural tool, a comb, etc. It’s the context that helps us define things, and thus historically helped define the fork.


What innovations could be made to the fork? While designers might envision some change, the overall function must always be considered. Recently I purchased a set of three-tined forks (see picture) from Ikea because they looked modern, classy, unique and cheap. As a consumer I assumed this fork functioned well because I am not a fork designer. Later I realized this three-tined fork did not afford ease of eating. For example, the tines are set too far apart, making me alter how I pick the food off my plate. My frustration with this fork is not due to poor instruction because this object is fundamental. The use is intuitive due to years of eating and cooking. Within the packaging there was no instruction on this fork, for example identifying this as a special fish fork or a tool designed with a specific use like the cocktail fork. Instead it was packaged as a regular utensil set. I’d argue its poor design is due to the constraints of production and demand.


“The manufacturer wants something that can be produced economically. The store wants something that will be attractive to its customers. The purchaser has several demands…at home, the same person will pay more attentions to functionality and usability,” (p. 29). I have used many forks in my life; making me a sort of ‘non-expert expert,’ but no previous fork has had such a functionality issue. This suggests to me a flaw in the design due to the need to design and produce something different. With Ikea being famous for having unique items at a low price, we as consumers must realize that we are sacrificing some quality for the low price. This quality sacrifice is most likely a constraint of designing this three-tined fork. I am willing to forgo a little on the quality since I am not likely to entertain the president anytime soon, but eventually the function I’ve become accustomed to in previous forks will win out as I purchase a better set.


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