Scissors. Cups. Kitchen utensils. They’re household items considered to be so fundamentally sound in their essential form and function that they’ve changed little throughout the years.

Hence, for designers, figuring out a way to improve upon goods that seem perpetually immutable presents a tantalizing challenge. The trick, however, is to come up with a design that smooths over the inherent flaws in a product, while still retaining its classic simplicity.

Here are some examples of clever concepts that may have pulled it off through nothing more than slight alterations.

(DM Initiatives)

1. A knife that makes butter more buttery

Butter knives can be distinguished from other cutlery by their safer dull-edge and rounded tip, which prevents tearing the bread as the butter is being spread. Ironically, though, they can’t help you when it comes to those cold, tough bricks of butter that tend to rough up the bread in the process. You used to have to wait for it to soften to room temperature.

A team of Aussies recently took a stab at solving the problem and after poking a few holes in the original concept – 21 of them, in fact — arrived at what may well be the ultimate solution. In the GIF above, you can see how running the perforated side of the knife along the stick’s surface creates a grating effect that carves out smooth slivers that can be coated onto food easily.

A Kickstarter campaign for the potentially revolutionary utensils has raised more than $200,000 (Australian dollars), far eclipsing the group’s fund-raising goal of $38,000. (And preorders are still being taken for around $15.) It’s expected to ship in March 2015.


2. A super pot that spikes plant growth

Speaking of holes, there’s evidence that suggests potted plants can benefit from them as well. That’s the idea behind the Air-Pot, a mesh-styled container that the inventors say helps plants grow faster and healthier.

With traditional pots, a plant’s roots expands and curls into a spiral as it bumps up against the walls of the enclosure. And over time, raising it in such a constrained environment may result in the plant becoming “root-bound,” a condition in which the  roots become unruly to the point where there isn’t sufficient room left for the soil to hold water, leading to root death.

With the Air-Pot’s numerous conical-shaped outlets, roots are able to grow out toward empty space before being eventually halted or “air-pruned” by the effects of dehydration. Enabling plants to mature in this manner, the company’s evidence suggests, forces it to grow more roots in an untangled, radial pattern that’s for better nutrient absorption.

Pot price varies depending on the crop and growers needs.

(Tamas Fekete)

3. Scissors perfect for cutting straight lines

Throughout recorded history, scissors have been treated as nothing more than a cutting tool. And to their credit, they’ve gotten the job done for centuries.

That’s why most tweaks to the basic design are mainly for specialized jobs like shaping fabrics, styling hair and pruning wires. There’s even versions that cater to those who are left-handed. Yet when to comes to the common task of cutting in a straight line, craftspeople would have little choice but to break out heavy-duty solutions like paper cutters, crudely known as “guillotines.”

Concepts like the Vector Scissors, designed Hungarian Tamás Fekete, may someday fill that void. They’re ergonomically similar to a basic pair of scissors, except with handles that progressively widen out towards the bottom side. With the top left handle placed flat on the end surface of a table, the right handle can be guided along the table’s straight edge, as the user cuts forth.

Fekete is currently exploring ways to commercialize his idea.


4.  An axe with a twist revolutionizes wood chopping 

From the perfect cut to the perfect chop, there’s the aptly-named Leveraxe. The slightly off-kilter wood axe invented by a Finnish woodsman first made its debut via YouTube back in 2008 and has since accrued a steady following.

In the video, inventor Heikki Kärnä demonstrates how simply reconfiguring the axe  makes it much more efficient at splitting  wood. Whereas regular axes relying solely on the downforce momentum, the Leveraxe, with the head attached from the side, rather than the center, twists slightly in the hand upon impact. The additional rotational “lever” action helps to further separate the wood while also keeping the axe from getting stuck.

The Leveaxe is priced around $300 and ships from Finland.


5. With legs, this cup won’t tip over

Often times, it’s individual circumstances that spurs innovation. Lily Born, an 11-year old elementary school student from Chicago, was inspired to develop the spill-proof Kangaroo cup as a way of making life easier for her grandfather, who struggles to grip objects due to Parkinson’s disease.

The original product — sold in 2012 — has since been given a reboot. While the new design still features three legs that predominantly spout out from the side to lend stability, the ceramic material has been replaced with BPA-free plastic, which allows it to be lightweight, shatterproof and stackable.

With the help of her father, Born launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $62,053, surpassing the initial goal $25,000. Interested buyers can still preorder sets starting at $13, with shipments slated for November.

(Under Amour)

6. The world’s first one-handed zipper

Like Born, inventor Scott Peters was simply wanting to make life easier for a loved one who was disabled. Peters’s Uncle Dave was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, a wasting disease that caused his muscles to deteriorate to the point where he constantly had a hard time zipping up his jacket.

Peters’s solution was to develop a zipper that can be aligned and zipped up using just one hand.  After a lengthy period of trial and error, he perfected the Magzip. And here’s how it works: Both ends of the zipper are magnetic and feature interlocking grooves that, when brought together in close proximity, latch on automatically and securely. From there, zipping in and out of a jacket is a breeze.

Upon learning of his unique system, sportswear manufacturer Under Armour contracted Peters to refine the technology for the company’s outdoor apparel line.

(Sang Min Yu and Wong Sang Lee)

7. A toothpaste tube that gets every last bit out

Since the late 1800’s, we’ve been able to enjoy the joys of toothpaste in a tube. Prior to that, the routine of teeth cleaning involved a mix of powdered substances and heavy jars.

While convenient, it’s still maddeningly impossible to squeeze out that last bit onto the brush. Meanwhile, efforts to create the perfect container have led to numerous concepts that seem, quite frankly, a tad bit nonsensical. There’s, for instance, the Swing tube, which features a circular hole where you can stick in a finger and twirl it around. The idea is to use centrifugal force to push the stubborn remains towards the opening.

SavePaste, the brainchild of Chinese students Sang Min Yu and Wong Sang Lee, shows that a sane and effective way of emptying out whatever is left does at least exist (thankfully). Comprised of the same liquid-proof paper material as milk cartons, the container can be folded down flat easily, along designated creases. It can also be open and closed using a sliding clasp, similarly to a ziplock bag.

Alas, SavePaste is only a concept — for now at least.


8. A pan molded to cook faster

A new wrinkle to cookware can actually save energy and allow food to be cooked even faster.

Lab tests have shown that, with traditional cookware, as much as 75 percent of heat generated by a stove is lost as it rises and escapes along the side.  In comparison, the Flare pan, designed by Thomas Povey, an engineer who specializes in jet engines,  is up to 40 percent more energy efficient. The secret sauce is a series of molded vertical fins, located along the outer surface in a circular pattern, that channel much of the heat back toward the food.

Prices for the revamped saucepan and pot start at about $85 and can be purchased through UK-based manufacturer Lakeland.

(Klemens Torggler)

9. With a simple tap, a re-imagined door opens like magic 

Any way you swing it, doors are freak accidents waiting to happen. Austrian inventor Klemens Torggler’s kinetic doors, however, are an exception. They open and close by moving sideways, and unlike sliding doors, don’t require tracks nor any strain to force them aside.

All it takes is a simple tap from the side and something kind of magical goes into motion. His “evolution” split doors, for instance, are designed so that the top and bottom halves can bend and push each other across as they rotate, connecting seamlessly on the other side.

Torggler showcases several designs on his Web site that operate similarly, but rely on varying principles. Currently, he custom-builds the doors in his studio and ships them internationally. For prices, inquire within.

10. The shovel that does everything… and then some

The Chinese military shovel’s impressive multiplicity of uses has led some to hail it as the ultimate survival tool, perhaps outclassing even the legendary Swiss army knife. Despite the promo video’s campiness, you can at least see why it’s received so much hype.

As a tool, it boasts 18 functions that, besides digging, includes heavy-duty capabilities such as sawing metal pipes, chopping vegetables, cutting barb wire, climbing cliffs, hammering nails and opening canned goods and beer bottles. In this case, the better question might be “what can’t it do?”

Reviews of the product on Amazon, where it’s selling for $80, are mostly positive, though word on the streets is that it can be had for a much lower price if you’re willing to dig around some.