Form Meets Function: 11 Products That Look as Good As They Perform

Form Meets Function: 11 Products That Look as Good As They Perform
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein

I’ve been obsessed with Batman since I was five. It’s not just that he’s an ordinary man (albeit a billionaire) who beats criminals to a pulp; it’s the tools he uses along the way. The batarang, the batmobile, the grapnel gun, the cape that becomes rigid so he can glide over Gotham City. Like the Joker said: Where does he get those wonderful toys?

It’s this coupling of form and function that I strive for in my belongings. I want the items I own to serve their purposes well, but I also want those items to look handsome in the process. And the older I get, the more I find that the most handsome items have profundity in their simplicity. Leonardo Da Vinci said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” which is why in 2023 we still appreciate Mid-Century Modern furniture and the subtle curves of a 1965 Porsche 911.

Just like Batman’s gadgets, great form is not just about what it looks like, it’s a reflection of creative problem-solving. Great design makes using a product feel intuitively obvious – it is not just a nice-to-have, it enhances the user experience. Jony Ive, the designer of the iPhone, said, “There is beauty when something works and it works intuitively.”

Ok, but if something works well, why should I care about how it looks? I’m afraid I don’t have an overly philosophical answer for that. Simply put: attractive things make us enjoy them more. Beautiful design, like the symmetry and proportion in nature, evokes a sense of calm and harmony. This enjoyment is not superficial; it's deeply rooted in our psychological well-being. When you pay $200 for your anniversary dinner at an upscale restaurant, you’re not just paying for the quality of the food; you’re also paying for the presentation. And in a way we can’t quite explain, the presentation adds to the flavor.

I’d like to herald in the New Year with an air of minimalist form with top-notch function, and here are a few items to help along the way.

a kitchen aid mixer

Kitchen Aid Mixer

The KitchenAid stand mixer was first introduced in its current design in 1937. Notice I said its current design – the truth is KitchenAid hasn’t changed much because they embrace the aphorism that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Aside from a few improvements, the design has remained largely the same: Motor, attachments, bowl.

This isn’t just your grandmother’s cookie maker; this is a legitimate power tool with an attachment for just about every kitchen task you might encounter: meat grinder, pasta maker, shaved iced, it can do it all. With a body made from steel and iron, and a motor that can handle the thickest dough, it's made to work and looks good while doing it.

A few years back I bought the 6 qt for my wife, and I noticed that she always left it out on the countertop. Eventually I found a spot in a bottom cabinet for it. This was quickly corrected, and my wife explained to me, “When something is this beautiful, you leave it out.” She’s right.

Fellow Stagg Gooseneck Kettle

There’s nothing wrong with your old stovetop kettle, but it doesn’t give you much in the way of control. The Fellow kettle was introduced in 2016 and quickly became the gold standard for pour over kettles. The gooseneck spout allows for precise pouring and offers what we in the photography world like to call a leading line in terms of its aesthetic. It pulls you in visually and then delivers the most kick-ass water-heating experience you could ask for.

In terms of function, the Fellow kettle offers more than you knew you needed. It has a hold function, which will maintain your desired temperature (which you can set) for up to 60 minutes, and a built-in brewing stopwatch so you can time your pour over perfectly. The quick-heating element allows for fast boiling, and the digital display tells you the exact temperature. The kettle base even has a secret little wormy game built into the digital display.


Brio Beardscape

If you’ve bought a beard trimmer lately, then you know that a quality product is getting more and more difficult to find. The small Michigan-based team at Brio are challenging that trend with the V2 Beardscape Trimmer. The V2 is substantial in size and weight, so it doesn’t feel like a toy in your hand, and the ceramic blade has a hardness greater than steel, meaning it will stay sharp literally for years.

The V2 has an adjustable slide right on the trimmer, so you can dial in micro-adjustments for the exact length you want your hair, and because the four guard attachments are double-sided, you have 24 length settings with significantly fewer parts than the average trimmer.

A digital display tells you how many minutes your battery has left on the 240 minutes of trim time so you’ll never run out half way through a beard trim on the way to something important. You can also adjust the RPM of the motor from 5,000 to 7,000 RPM to tackle any hair coarseness or density. Holding the power button down enables a travel lock to avoid errant button presses. From a function standpoint, the team at Brio have thought of everything.

From a form standpoint, the V2 has a matte black finish, an intuitive color screen, and a charging stand to keep it upright. It’s a piece you’ll be proud to have sitting on your bathroom countertop. Plus, Brio backs it with a 24 month warranty.

Right now if you buy the Beardscape V2 you'll receive the Zero Blade attachment ($24.99 value) free.

Craftsman Metal Tool Box

I have a hard plastic tool box that I got when I bought my first house, but it’s old, beat up, and frankly, it’s ugly. Honestly, I only use it if I’m taking tools to a specific spot in my house for a job because once I lift out the top tray, it’s just a giant open space. So I have to dig three inches down to find my adjustable wrench, all the while cutting my fingers on a loose razor blade I forgot was in there. It’s not practical.

There are a few companies out there making solid tools, and Craftsman has been around since 1927. This Craftsman metal tool box, made from steel, looks especially smart in its fire truck red paint, which harkens back to the 1950s, yet somehow also looks completely contemporary. It won’t take up too much space on your workbench, and the sliding drawers (which lock in place unless the lid is up) can hold a hell of a lot of gear. And as simple as it sounds, you don’t realize how much you appreciate shallow sliding drawers until you’ve had to dig for ten minutes to find a single screwdriver.

Hoto Flashlight Duo

I have a light I hang from my hood when I’m working on my car. I have a flashlight that I take camping, and I have a lantern for the back porch. But the Hoto Flashlight Duo is literally all three of these in one attractive package.

With 1000 lumens, the Hoto provides enough light for you to change a tire on a pitch black night or create ambience while you’re having drinks on a summer evening. Use the stretchable hook to hang it on a nail, or use the magnetic bar (or the velcro wrap) to hold it in place on metal or non-metallic surfaces. The 65-hour battery charges up with USB-C (can we just live in a world where everything charges with USB-C?), which means if your car breaks down but the battery still works, you can charge the light.

Most flashlights have the same aggressively tactical aesthetic, but the Hoto looks like a seamless element of interior design. The round body and matte finish make it chic enough that you won’t want to keep this one in your junk drawer or toolbox.

Peak Design Travel Backpack

I still have my old-school backpack that I carried in college. The problem is that whenever I try to use it for travel, it’s a disaster. It’s just a big open space, like a Tupperware for leftover casserole, which is exactly what all of my belongings become: a mixed up mess. The Peak Design Travel Backpack adds a layer of intentionality to packing that I didn’t know was possible.

Not only is this backpack incredibly capacious, you can use the brand’s dividers and cubes to compartmentalize to your heart’s delight, but your stuff can be reached at multiple access points – front, side, and back meaning you don’t have to unpack everything to get what you need. Don’t want to use the shoulder straps? They tuck in, and the handle on the back of the bag allows you to carry it like a duffel.

It’s made of recycled 400D nylon canvas, which means it’s tough and won’t get your belongings soak if you’re caught in the rain. To keep your back comfortable, there’s a stowable, padded hip strap and a sternum strap. It’s a carry-on, a camera bag, a hiking backpack, a travel backpack; it’s damn-near anything you need it to be.

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife

When we were kids, we all wanted Crocodile Dundee’s knife. But you know what the problem is? That knife doesn’t fit in your pocket too easily. In fact, the problem with most knives is they are either so big and utilitarian that they’re as ugly as an 80s Volvo, or they’re so beautiful that the last thing you’d want to do is actually cut anything with them.

The Victorinox Swiss Army Knife marries sharp and keen (I know those are synonyms, but hear me out). This was my first pocket knife as a kid, and over the years I’ve had two of them (a keychain size and a full size). The smooth Cellidor plastic is rugged and has just the right amount of sheen. The red color, introduced in the 1940s, was used to make it easily identifiable by a soldier if he dropped it in the field. The rounded edges means it slips into a pocket easily, without catching the fabric or potentially poking you in the leg. With a blade, a screwdriver, a can opener, wire strippers, a corkscrew, a toothpick, tweezers, etc., you have everything you need. It’s keen.

I got my first Swiss Army knife when I was 8-years-old, and I was having my first campfire with friends over. My dad handed me the knife and told me to go find some good marshmallow-roasting sticks. I spent the next hours walking through the woods, finding sticks, and then carving their tips into surgical points for piercing marshmallows. The Swiss Army blade glided through those sticks like butter because this thing is sharp.

dyson hair dryer

Dyson Hair Dryer

James Dyson once said, I just think things should work properly. This sentiment is encapsulated in Dyson products, and especially in the Dyson hair dryer. If you own a hair dryer, you know the technology is fairly primitive: fan, heating element. Dyson has eliminated the fan, making hair drying not only safer (you don’t need a kid sticking their finger in there), but also faster and less damaging. When I asked my barber, “Is the performance really in another world from normal hair dryers?” He said, “Unequivocally.”

Dyson uses Air Multiplier technology, which draws in ambient air, increases its velocity through internal channels, and expels it at a terrific rate. This speeds up hair drying without the need for so much heat. The dryer is acoustically tuned so as not to be so deafeningly loud, and the motor is in the handle for better weight balance (think about how top-heavy your hair dryer is). The controlled, focused airflow allows for fast styling without the threat of heat damage, and its magnetic attachments are easy to attach and remove.

On top of its stellar performance, the Dyson hair dryer looks like no other hair dryer you’ve ever seen. I mean…you can see through the thing; the barrel is short, giving you greater control while styling, and the color schemes are outstanding (I’m partial to the Prussian Blue and Rich Copper).

Zippo Lighter

The Zippo was inspired by an Austrian lighter known as the ‘Austrian stormproof lighter'. George G. Blaisdell, the founder of Zippo, was impressed by its design but found it clunky and difficult to operate. In 1932, he set out to create a lighter that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The name ‘Zippo' was chosen because Blaisdell liked the sound of the word ‘zipper', which was a novel device at the time.

I got my first Zippo when I was 18. I didn’t smoke; I just wanted one. When I got to college, I’d walk to class, flicking the lid open and closed in metronomic bliss. When the lid on my Zippo broke, the company (located in Bradford, PA just a few hours away from where I grew up) fixed it for free because they have a lifetime warranty, and it’s been kickin’ ever since. A few years ago, I switched over to the butane insert so that I don’t have to worry about refilling the fluid.

The Zippo is a staple of American iconography with its clean rectangular shape, its reliability, and its signature ‘clink’ when you open it. Buy one, use it, then pass it down to your grandson in 50 years.

simplehuman Sensor Soap Dispenser

If there’s one thing we all learned from covid, it’s that we touch too much stuff. The simplehuman sensor soap dispenser gives you one less spot to leave your germs. This automatic soap dispenser works infinitely better than the ones in public restrooms, which require a ninja’s touch to actually get the soap to come out.

Hand soap isn’t a design choice: it’s a necessity. This soap dispenser takes a necessity and turns it into a piece of modern art. It’s available in four different colors, and currently there are four special-edition holiday finishes.

To operate, place your hand under the spout, and soap will come out. But wait, there’s more. If you want a little soap, put your hand close to the spout. More soap? Move your hand farther down. The sensor will measure the distance from your hand and dispense accordingly. Genius.

pour over glass coffee maker


I used to think that pour-over coffee was some kind of hipster hoax, but then I got a Chemex. With a design so beautiful that it’s actually been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it looks splendid on the kitchen counter, waiting for its next slow brew.

The Chemex was invented in 1941, and its timeless design has primarily remained the same. Its modest brewing method (you literally pour hot water over the coffee grounds) yields a consistently pleasing cup, giving you total control over temperature of your water (which is a much bigger deal than you think in terms of the strength and taste of your brew). 

Literally anyone can use the Chemex, from an experienced barista to a total novice. And because it’s glass, it won’t retain stale or burnt flavors from previous brews like plastic makers: with each wash, it looks brand new.

What are your favorite products with great design? Keep the list going in the comments!

Mike Henson

Mike Henson is a literature teacher in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He enjoys shooting 35mm film, restoring vintage straight blades, purchasing too many American-made goods, and spending time with his wife and their three daughters.