A History of Re-designing the Toaster

Onkar Kular created a toaster as part of a series of variously altered household objects entitled Machines for Living the toaster in question, the Precision Toaster is designed to be pre-programmed with each member of the household's preference for how they like their toast cooked. It's not just a clever bit of product design though. Kular has removed a basic piece of interaction, that part where the last person to cook toast has left their mark on the object - apart from crumbs, nothing is left of the previous user. It also asks whether we'd be happy with this toasting situation. If toast was the same everyday without any accidents or slight variations, would that be ok?

Numerous attempts have been made an invisible toaster. Possibly the two most well known are the Inventibles glass version, which I don't think was ever finished or worked and the Magimix Vision, which retails at £160 after it's release last year. The objective behind them is pretty obvious; if you can see your toast, you know when it's done and the ceaseless and tedious 'goes in 5, comes up 3, put in for 2, comes up 7.' routine can end. I'm not sure if I'm happy with the end of that mystery but it's certainly a solution that people will pay for. The transparent toaster marks a departure from the overall ethos of designing kitchen utilities. The processes inside the kettle, the cooker, the fridge, the fryer (if you're that way inclined) or intentionally sealed off from view. They keep the sleek, minimmal design that almost all kitchen owners want. Thos who don't tend to toast their bread on an open fire in a field somewhere in Dorset. We don't want to see the process that turns the raw material we buy into food. Toast may be an exception, but how long before paranoia or obsession (as played with by Kular's work) leads us to transparent food? My friend Pei even looked at a world where a desperate control of materials led to meta-material food that was transparent.

Finally, probably the most famous toaster project in the world is Design Interactions RCA grad Thomas Thwaites' Toaster Project.

For nine months I've been trying to make an electric toaster, myself, starting from scratch. I like toast, as well as many of the other trappings of 21st-century life.

I determined that iron, copper, mica, nickel and crude oil (for the plastic case) were the minimum set of materials from which I could construct a machine to toast bread.

My quest to obtain these raw materials from disused mines in Britain, then to process them myself at home, is perhaps absurd.

But so, too, is the massive industrial activity in the pursuit of additional modicums of comfort at lower prices; small trifles, like an evenly crispy piece of toast, that we quickly become accustomed to.

The laboriousness of producing even the most basic material from the ground up exposes the fallacies in the romantic ideal of a return to a pre-industrialised time. But at a moment in time when the effects of industry are no longer trivial in relation to the wider environment, the throwaway toasters of today seem culturally unreasonable
Thwaites' project has gone down as one of thoseprojects brought up over and over again, and deservedly so, he even gave a presentation at TED. The Toaster Project draws a fantastically simple and sophisticated comment on the lengths that an individual might have to go for to achieve the products of mechanised society, even though sitting in a field in Dorset with an open fire might be easier. He's not telling us how much we take for granted, he decided to live an entire process that show us a glimpse at the history of the science and technology behind your household goods and sho just how sophisticated they are.