What makes an heirloom an heirloom? "Did those people back then put that intention there?" asks Jeff Salazar of Lunar, a design firm whose fingerprint can be found on products from mega-corporations like Oral B and HP to startups like BodyMedia Core wearable tech and the Piamo espresso maker.
Salazar, Lunar's VP of design, is asking the question because he's embarking on a product launch. Only this time, instead of consulting for a third-party brand, he and his two cofounders will own Belle-V Kitchen, from concept to shelf.
"We’re not going to be about technology," Salazar tells Co.Design. "We’re not going to be about gadgetry." The decidedly analog new line is angled at competing with the enduring hard goods you’d find at a Sur La Table, and intent on growing up to be passed down between generations, say, Le Creuset from your grand-mere.
Up first for Belle-V Kitchen? This eponymous ice cream scoop.
Imagine you’re at an ice cream shop, asking for two scoops of Rocky Road. There’s a ritual to the movement: The person behind the counter ducks down and reaches an arm into the case, then has to twist their wrist around a few times to carve out a sphere of ice cream. In an increasingly ergonomic world, this particular utensil is woefully behind.
To fix this, the San Francisco-based Lunar team angled their aluminum scoop, and subtly elongated the form on one side to create a lip for catching the ice cream. That tilted angle houses the Belle-V’s muscle. Salazar says the insight came within a day, and the rest of the 15 or so prototypes were focused on getting the handle just right. "Whenever you’re designing an object that gets held, it’s really all about moving away from CAD and sketching."
He likens the process to designing the Oral B toothbrush. "Ultimately you say it’s another toothbrush, great." But when you pick up the Oral B, or the Belle-V, he says, "You get the softness."
Now picture yourself at home, eating ice cream. Grab the tub from the freezer, along with a couple of bowls from the cabinet (yes, in this scenario, everyone is being civilized and serving it properly). What do you scoop out the ice cream with? "I use a spoon," Salazar says. "I’m not going to buy a particular thing just for [scooping ice cream]. So how do I get through that hurdle?" The ice cream shop’s employees scoop dozens and dozens of times a day, but the average Ben & Jerry’s lover probably doesn’t notice (or care) that a spoon isn’t really doing the trick. Lunar’s solution: Make a sculptural object with heft and a narrative.
"You’ve got a microsecond to make an impression," Salazar says. What happens in that pre-dessert flash of a moment? First, the Belle-V looks noticeably quirky, because of that important asymmetry. But ice cream is also a quick dose of nostalgia. "It’s familiar to people, throughout their lives and histories. It brings back memories of childhood. It’s comforting."
It's tactical, too. Salazar and the Belle-V team know that making a spatula or a plain-old spoon won’t turn a company into the next OXO or Le Creuset, with their signature products. Shoppers already have plenty of those, or they’re rote buying to replace old and tired products. The new thing, whatever it is, needs emotion.
Much of Lunar’s work on Belle-V boils down to considering how we populate our lives with things. They're all artifacts, whether they’re transitory or permanent. And in measures great and small, they take up resources like materials, time, and creativity. Even more important, they take up space in our homes. Salazar’s design mantra is "Why another thing?" That framework forces a more intentional approach to crafting objects. The team has yet to decide on their sophomore product, but those principles certainly apply: "If you open kitchen drawers, what do people hold on to?" Salazar asks. "We’ve explored things like melon ballers and avocado peelers, things that feel a little more novel. We want people to wonder, what will they make next?"
The Belle-V comes in four finishes, and will cost from $40 to $250. Get one, and support the fledgling brand, through their Kickstarter campaign.