We have a Scottish inventor called Alan MacMasters to thank for the electric appliance that makes our breakfasts more bearable. In the late 1890s, the Scottish inventor came up with an electrically powered toast-maker; the initial design wasn’t a success, but it did lead to the first pop-up toaster, which launched in 1919.
The toasters of today have changed little – they may be more pleasing in shape and colour (and less likely to burn you) but the design itself has kept very much to that initial form – a box which toasts bread with electric wires, and pops them up when they’re done. Times have changed, and so have housing costs, and as a result many people are living in cosier spaces, with cramped kitchens.
London designer Harrison Williams from Ausen Design led a team who wanted to transform the toaster. Their main concerns were to cut down the space the toaster took up, as well as allowing it to toast food thicker than a slice of bread.
Alongside fellow designers Jermaine Legg and Thomas Maltby, Williams has designed a much slimmer device which lies flat to toast the food but can be stored standing up – freeing up space. There’s little in the way of controls too – just a dial to select toasting levels and pop the lid open.
As Williams tells BBC Future: “The concept aims to reduce the occupation of counter space, increase user friendliness, break the stereotypical design format and it's safer, no need to stick a knife in there!”
Why the toaster?
Even compared to the early 20th Century, toasters have not evolved greatly. They have been a convenient kitchen appliance that almost every household contains. We decided to take on this as a challenge, usually designs that have been reproduced with different aesthetics, rather than functionality, have found a system that works and are reluctant to change from this because it is too daunting. As a designer, the concept of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is the antithesis of how I work. Design is about improving and developing even such mundane and functional items as the toaster.
The current models are standardised to the extent that we barely notice them, although they are commonly ungainly, inefficient, oversized and limited. We regularly toast morning delights such as crumpets, baguettes and toasties. The current designs simply do not accommodate any of these. Offering a product which could add the toasting of these baked goodies with the simplicity of the current toaster, will improve the morning meal.
And what about kitchen chic? The focus on creating “cool” accessories is limited to things such as sounds systems, lighting and television. Why not create original ideas to grab attention? The toaster will do this better than a new speaker which, like the current design of toaster, has been revamped and redesigned over and over again.
What were the flaws in the original design?
We focused on four areas. Primarily, the occupation of kitchen counter space. Unfortunately some of us who live in big cities can suffer from reduced living space. One of the worst-affected areas is the kitchen and subsequently, the counter space. Toasters take a lot of the blame for this.
As mentioned previously, the lack of flexibility in items that you can toast is a real disappointment. Some bold manufacturers have branched out into toasting hot dogs, but I can’t say that seems overly appealing.
From an aesthetic perspective, there are various designs that try and push what a toaster can look like, but they generally fall rely on the top loading, pop-up toaster format – and to be honest that just seems a bit boring.