Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind the most disruptive products in history through the lens of design.
Famed chemist and inventor Peter Schlumbohm patented more than 300 devices during his career, roughly 20 of which wound up in the New York Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection, but his most commercially successful design by far is the remarkably simple (but not simplistic) Chemex Coffeemaker.
Made entirely of a single piece of hand-blown glass, with a wooden corset around the middle to protect hands from heat, the Coffeemaker was invented in 1941 and chosen by the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1958 as one of the 100 best-designed products of modern times.
Schlumbohm was known for stripping products down to only their essential components, a design principle evinced by the Coffeemaker perhaps more than any of his other inventions. Part of the beauty of the Coffeemaker, aside from its elegant hourglass shape, is the fact that it only requires coffee grounds, a paper filter, and water.
"Nothing [about it] is superficial," New York City-based industrial designer Jonas Damon recently told Inc. "It's a completely modern design and at the same time it's very delicate and fragile. A lot of products, no matter how beautiful they are, aren't necessarily treated with respect." Damon, who serves as executive creative director at the innovation consultancy Frog Design, regards the Coffeemaker as the best-designed historical product.
Here are three design lessons from the Chemex Coffeemaker that helped make it an iconic kitchen appliance:
1. Simplify for the sake of customers.
While some designers try to improve existing products by adding additional features, Schlumbohm used a minimalist approach to try to perfect the art coffee brewing. "It's one of the simplest ways of preparing a pot of coffee," Shark Senesac, lead coffee roaster for De La Paz Coffee in San Francisco, told Collectors Weekly last year. "When you see someone make a cup of coffee with a Chemex, you think to yourself, 'Wow, that's all there is to the process?'"
2. Anticipate customers' needs and meet them.
Removing all traces of bitterness found in coffee made from other devices was one of Schlumbohm's key objectives, which is why Chemex's paper filters were designed to be thicker than competitors' and remove more of the chemicals in coffee oils. "Ground coffee contains only two desirable ingredients: aromatic coffee oils and caffeine. The rest is a vile mixture of some 50 different chemicals," Schlumbohm once said when discussing his product. "With this, even a moron can make good coffee."
3. Design for the classes and price for the masses.
Part of what makes the Chemex Coffeemaker unique is its laboratory equipment aesthetic that resembles the design of a chemist's flask. The utilitarian nature of the product also allowed Chemex to price it relatively cheaply, costing just $6 during the 1950s and between $30 and $40 today.
Of all the products Schlumbohm designed, only the Chemex Coffeemaker is still made today, according to Collectors Weekly.
Which other products that embrace simplicity and have stood the test of time do you admire? Tell us in the comments below.