Good Design/Bad Design for a Specialty Object: Crumb Sweepers

At 14 I landed a job as a busboy at a white-tablecloth restaurant. Each shift I was given a black apron and something I’d never seen before: A shiny piece of aluminum that looked like this, except with the restaurant’s name printed on the back.

It had a pen clip you used to secure it in a purpose-sewn pocket in the apron.

When you cleared the plates, you used this thing to sweep crumbs off of the tablecloth and onto the dirty plates you were taking away.

They taught you how to stack the plates and bowls, big-to-small, in the crook of your left arm, then to crumb-sweep with the right. What they didn’t teach you was to clear half-empty bowls of soup SLOWLY, and after I ruined a customer’s tan suit with tomato soup I was fired.

Anyways, it’s a simple and elegant piece of design, just a concave strip of aluminum that I then imagined was cut out of a piece of tubing, but now believe was extruded in a C-profile and then had the tips rounded off in a secondary operation. They are of course still produced—you can find them on restaurant supply websites—and I was surprised to learn that OXO makes a domestic version:

I do not consider the OXO version a good design (though admittedly I’ve never used nor touched one). Perhaps it’s more usable for people with grip issues, but from a materials/environmental standpoint it’s pretty excessive.

The restaurant version is simple, effective, easily recyclable and uses minimal materials. The OXO version has moving parts, uses multiple pieces of plastic (emblem, housing, bristles, gear) that would need to be disassembled for recycling, and the overall bulk of the object means you’d fit way less of these on a shipping pallet. While OXO was once a champion of good design, I think this should be an ID school case study on good design vs. bad design, with OXO on the wrong end.