Posts tagged with "Fast Company"

OpenHome aims to make custom-designed houses for the 99%

September 20, 2021

What could be better than a custom-designed home? It can be planned precisely to fulfill any whim or wish, with an architect standing by to turn customers’ visions into bespoke built form.

But one other thing also comes with custom houses–a huge price tag. That is, until now.

OpenHomea new joint venture between the architecture firms  KieranTimberlake  and  Lake|Flato and the prefabricated-home builder Bensonwood—is dedicated to creating a more accessible custom-home option, reports Fast Company.

By combining prefabricated elements with architect-guided custom design treatments, the system brings true dream-home design into the hands (and budgets) of the less than rich. . The design system can halve the time it would take to build a fully customized home, and can bring down the cost significantly.

Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake, San Antonio-based Lake|Flato, and Walpole, New Hampshire-based Bensonwood came together in 2018 to develop the concept and began taking on design projects in the spring of 2020.

Working with an architect, homebuyers can define the spatial layout of their house and the types of rooms it will have by combining clusters from the OpenHome library. The pieces can be combined in a variety of shapes from narrow to wide; single- to double-story; in straight lines, perpendicular arrangements, or with interior courtyards.

Sun and seasonal modeling provide a sense for how the light will change in each room throughout the course of the year, and also will help fine-tune the construction needs to ensure the home meets the high insulation requirements of the Passive House standard.

Based on the client’s wishes, windows can be moved or enlarged, walls can be lengthened, and rooflines can be adjusted. Within three months, a design can be finalized.

“It’s a really effective tool for being able to operate at this pace,”  KieranTimberlake’s Matt Krissel, project lead for OpenHome, recently told Fast Company.  “And acknowledging that a lot of people don’t actually understand floorplans or building sections, being able to model and walk people virtually through from early design really enhances our ability to get feedback.”

As the design gets closer to being finalized, the virtual reality tool is also used to help select the finishes for each room, from bathroom tiles to roofing materials.

Once the design is set, Bensonwood takes about two months to fabricate the panels in its factory. It also coordinates the building permit and work with a local contractor to begin laying the foundation and preparing for the on-site installation.

The first home KieranTimberlake designed through the OpenHome process is now under construction in New Hampshire. Krissel says each of the partners in the joint venture has at least one OpenHome project in the works. KieranTimberlake is starting work on a second design and aims to be able to take on three to five per year to start.

“The goal is to be able to do these in less than a year, if [clients] can actually make all the decisions this fast,” Krissel says. “It’s a bit idealized, but the goal is that it’s substantially faster from beginning to end.”

The system brings architect-designed homes within reach of clients without the budget for a fully custom home. It also brings new opportunities to architects. “Now,” Krissel says, “we can say yes to projects that don’t have that luxury of a time frame or budget.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

A study that might give you ‘paws’: The talents of left-handed v. right-handed dogs

September 6 2021

In the human world, there’s a growing body of scholarship around “handedness”—and any possible link to superior talent, intellect, or athleticism. Are some of us more fated for success, solely based on which hand our five-year-old selves used to pick up a writing utensil?

Scientists have scoured nearly every corner of the brain for answers, but results are still relatively inconclusive—and so, Boston-based Embark, a canine genetic-testing company, decided to take a closer look at another species, Fast Company reports.

Are some dogs more destined to be superstars? What is that je ne sais quoi that drives a dog to become an excellent lifeguard, bomb sniffer, or search-and-rescue hero? Does it have anything to do with handedness (um, pawed-ness)? Seeking answers, researchers began by studying the talented canines of the dog Olympics: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

.A team from Embark corralled 105 dogs who participated in Westminster’s weekend of championships and ran them through a series of tests to determine paw dominance. Its chief barometer was the “step test,” which identifies which paw a dog first uses when starting to walk from a standing or sitting state, or to step over a strategically placed stick. (Other tests observed which direction a dog turns within a crate, or which paw it uses to wipe a piece of tape from its nose.)

Of the dogs, the team found a majority were right-pawed: 63%, or 29 out of 46 dogs who competed in the masters agility obstacle course, preferred their right paw; as well as 61%, or 36 out of 59 dogs, who competed in the flagship show.

But that doesn’t mean right-pawed dogs reign supreme. Embark’s results are actually in line with those of a recent study, which found that right-pawed dogs make up roughly 58% of the dog population overall—meaning their representation within Westminster’s dog Olympics is quite proportional. Just as with humans, more dogs favor the right side—and in terms of talent, there’s no clear winner between the tribes.

Embark’s results did point to potential differences in pawed-ness between breeds: After the dogs were sorted into Herding, Terrier, and Retriever categories, data showed that 36% of both herders and terriers were left-pawed, while a sizable 72% of retrievers were left-pawed. However, researchers caution that the pool of retrievers was the smallest of all the breeds (only 11 dogs total), meaning more data would be needed to verify this finding.

But overall, we’d call the inconclusiveness here comforting. In the end, in terms of talents and personalities, the old saw is true: Every dog has his day.

Research contact: FastCompany

Big ideas: Old Navy overhauls how it designs for and markets to the plus-size consumer

August 20, 2021

For decades, fashion brands have been focused on thin consumers. That’s started to slowly shift over the past few years, thanks to designers like Christian Siriano and models like Ashley Graham. But still, the needs of the plus-size consumer are from mainstream, and the shopping experience is often marginalized, reports Fast Company.

Old Navy is trying to change that, by radically reimagining its approach to how plus-size clothes are designed, manufactured, and displayed. Starting on Friday, August 20, the company is making it possible for customers to shop sizes 0 to 30 in exactly the same way. That means no more plus-size styles or special sections: All its offerings will be made for all sizes and will be featured in the same displays.

.“This is the biggest launch since the brand was founded [in 1994],” says Nancy Green, Old Navy’s CEO. “It will involve every touchpoint at the brand, from marketing to stores to how we design clothes.”

There isn’t a good reason why fashion companies have separate plus-size and straight-size divisions. It’s an accident of history. Old Navy, for instance, began making plus-size clothes in 2004 and launched an entirely new business unit that catered to this customer.

Across the market, many brands have separate plus-size departments that churn out different styles and work with different factories that specialize in tailoring for plus-size bodies. “That’s the way that everyone always did it,” says Alison Partridge Stickney, Old Navy’s head of Women’s Merchandising, who helped spearhead the company’s new initiative. “It’s not the most compelling answer, I realize.”

Ans, Fast Company points out, even though women size 14 and up make up more than half the market, the industry overwhelmingly focuses on serving the needs of straight-size women.

Research firm NPD found that women’s plus-size clothing only makes up 19% of apparel, which means this customer is profoundly underserved.

Recently, however, there’s been a movement in the fashion industry to create clothing collections that encompass all sizes. One of the most notable players is Universal Standard, a premium brand founded in 2015 that offers sizes 00 to 40 for all garments in its collection.

But when Fast Company spoke with the brand’s founders as they were launching, they said how difficult it was to find designers and factories that were skilled at creating well-fitting pieces across a broad size range, precisely because the industry has been so bifurcated for so long. Over the past few years, several brands have followed Universal Standard’s lead, but manufacturing practices in the fashion industry have been slow to change.

High-end denim brand Good American, which launched in 2016, makes each of its styles in sizes 00 to 32, but when it partnered with Nordstrom in 2017, the retailer wanted to separate the brand’s larger sizes into a separate section of the store. It was only after the founders insisted on keeping the collection together that Nordstrom complied, and the strategy worked so well that Nordstrom began integrating plus-size clothes across the store, while also keeping its separate plus-size department.

All of these examples reveal how hard it is to rewrite the rule of the fashion industry. Four years ago, when Old Navy began surveying its customers and carrying out focus groups, it realized how terrible plus-size shoppers felt when they tried to buy clothing. They described how they had a tiny selection compared to straight-size women and how embarrassed they were to be relegated to a small subsection of the store.

“Every woman we talked to had a story,” says Stickney. “One mom in Miami told me she had this vision of the wonderful experience of shopping with her daughter when she grew up; but when the time came, they couldn’t shop at the same stores.”

It was clear to the brand that they had to change the way they did business, but it was also clear that integrating their straight- and plus-size departments would be an enormous undertaking. From a design perspective, Stickney was tasked with making sure that every garment Old Navy makes came in a full spectrum of sizes.

Typically, brands create a style and fit it on a size 8 model, then incrementally shrink or expand it proportionally so it fits larger and smaller sizes. For instance, to go from size 8 to size 10, you might increase the sleeves and torso of a shirt by an inch. But this approach doesn’t work as you get into larger sizes, since bodies don’t expand incrementally in every direction. If you kept increasing the sleeve length from size 8 to size 40, the sleeves would be so long, they’d end up on the floor. And since people carry weight differently, creating pieces that fit a wide range of plus-size consumers comfortably can be tricky.

Old Navy decided to change its entire technical design process. In 2018, it partnered with Susan Sokoloski, a professor of Product Design at the University of Oregon, to create software that would properly fit each style across the size range.

With Sokoloski, Old Navy’s Design Department scanned 389 women, then created 3D avatars that they could use to create patterns. The company then worked with its factory partners to learn this new sizing system, and cut and sew garments appropriately.

“This technology gave us a more realistic view of what the body looks like at each size,” says Emily Bibick, customer lead and merchandizing expert at Old Navy. “It allowed us to really pay attention to things like the placement of a pocket or buttons, or the length of a zipper. This allowed us to make sure that the product would fit well on every single body.”

It took two years to get this new system off the ground. But this year, Old Navy customers will finally experience the fruits of the labor. Every style in the fall collection will come in sizes 0 to 30, or XS to 4X. And there’s no price difference based on size.

Research contact: @Fast Company

Most employee monitoring tools are needlessly invasive, study finds

August 19, 202

A study has found that 75% of the most popular work surveillance tools can capture your screen—and nearly half of them can record every keystroke, reports Fast Company.

And , if an employer installs time- or attendance-tracking software on your computer, that software can probably spy on you in lots of other ways as well.

The study, conducted by the resume-help site StandOut CV, compared the data collection features in 32 of the most popular employee monitoring tools. The researchers found that 75% of these tools can record employees’ screens and monitor which apps or websites they’re using, while 59% can monitor keyboard and mouse movements. Nearly half of those tools can run in a stealth mode, allowing employers to deploy the software on company-owned computers without workers’ knowledge.

The companies behind this software—including Hubstaff, Time Doctor, Teramind, and Interguard—say their businesses have boomed during the pandemic. StandOut CV’s study quantifies just how invasive this software has become across the board as vendors compete to offer the most comprehensive monitoring features.

Whether those tactics do more good than harm is up for debate. Research has shown that monitoring can work well if employers are transparent about why they’re doing it, and if employees feel it will improve their work.

Conversely, invasive monitoring can lead to tension and burnout, and it can erode workers’ motivations to put in extra effort for a company. Monitoring software can also create privacy issues if employers slurp up personal data; and it can be a form of discrimination if managers use it to target specific workers.

It also might just be the wrong way to keep tabs on employees in a fully remote environment. Instead of just tracking the time and effort that goes in, companies might be better off looking at the work that comes out.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Garment worker: MIT is developing a robot that can help elderly people get dressed

July 14, 2021

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a robotic arm that can slide one arm of a vest onto a person. And that’s more impressive than it may initially seem, Fast Company reports.

It represents an early, but important, step in creating a robot that is completely dress an aging or disabled person—safely and gently handling painful, stiff, and bent joints, and other problems that affect the elderly .

Robots have actually been able to dress themselves for a decade now. Such an achievement is possible only because a robot knows the dimensions of its own body and exactly what it intends to do next. For a robot to dress someone else is an entirely different challenge—because the task requires it to intuit someone else’s next move, lest the robot make an error that might twist a wrist or dislocate an elbow.

“In this work, we focus on a planning technique,” explains Shen Li, a PhD candidate in the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT and the author of the new paper published by Science and Systems. “Robots predict human motion; then, design a plan that’s safe based upon the prediction. If I dress a kid or adult, they might have different reactions. So you have to predict what they’ll do.”

This prediction, in the human brain, is an invisible process. We don’t fully understand how a person approaches a situation like sliding a shirtsleeve onto another human.

Li and his collaborators took a stock robot arm and fit it with a 3D tracker, which can see the movement of the person waiting to be dressed. Their breakthrough is in the software, which not only recognizes someone’s position in the moment, but considers how they might move next—in order to successfully get them dressed, and not injure them in the process.

To anticipate one of, say, 100 different possible movements, the system “learns to” predict the 100 possible movements first; and create a path that ensures a person’s safety, no matter how they actually move.

“We’re not only predicting the most likely human movement, but the entire uncertain human set of the future,” Li told Fast Company—noting that this is an especially conservative approach that can mean you are getting dressed at a snail’s pace.

However, over time, the software learns from the person getting dressed. It can slowly disregard movements a person never makes—editing down the possible list to something more probable and practical.

For the next steps of research, Li would like to add a full sleeve to the vest, and develop the software to accommodate for the extra friction of pulling a garment onto an appendage. After that step is figured out, pulling on a second sleeve, or a pair of pants, will be easier.

The other big shortcoming in this research is that the current robot starts with a human fist already pulled through a sleeve hole, so the team would like to solve that issue, too—dressing a human from the earliest steps in the process. Li notes that nurses will often take a person’s hand and stick it through a sleeve, hinting that ultimately, a second robot arm could make this task a lot easier.

These may sound like baby steps of development, in a world where machine learning models seem to solve massive problems like computer vision and object recognition overnight. “How do you develop an algorithm to learn [human behavior] efficiently?” Li asks. “You can’t just have a human there doing the task [a million times].’”

Research contact: @FastCompany

BuzzFeed will pay creators of viral content up to $10,000 per post

June 16, 2021

BuzzFeed, the Internet kingpin of viral quizzes and meme-stuffed listicles, is testing a new way to gamify its content production, Fast Company reports.

The website, founded in 2006, earned Internet fame for its trending entertainment and celebrity news, clicky headlines, and library of unscientific quizzes promising to reveal such truths as your Harry Potter doppelgänger predicted from your favorite dessert foods, or whether or not you would be invited to the Met Gala based on an outfit crafted from the Asos clothing catalog.

To build its empire of content, BuzzFeed has long relied on an army of fan contributors—who create essays, lists, and quizzes free of charge via the BuzzFeed Community portal. In the past, it has doled out virtual “trophies” and “Internet points” to top content creators.

But now, for the first time, it’s offering  to pay these community members. Last week, it introduced a new programdubbed the BuzzFeed Summer Writers’ Challengethat offers payments of up to $10,000 per post for top creators, Fast Company reveals.

Users who publish posts that achieve a minimum number of page views between June 15 and August 15 will be compensated on a tiered scale, with payouts starting at $150 for stories with 150,000 views, and rising to $10,000 for stories that hit 4 million views.

Outsourcing content creation to the public is a business strategy that has been leveraged effectively by a number of publications in the past, including Forbes Media, which began paying all contributors in February 2018. That amount was whittled down a bit amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, with the current rate standing at $250 for those who author at least five posts per month as well as a half-cent bonus for every new reader a post generates.

BuzzFeed may be on to something similar: The company’s executive director of growth and trends, Peggy Wangtold AdWeek, “If we see positive effects from the challenge, it’s certainly likely that we could make the business case for extending this initiative, or bringing it back in other new forms.”

While the publication originated with a focus on viral content, in recent years it has invested in growing its investigative journalism unit and reporting hard-hitting news features. It won its first Pulitzer prize in 2021 for a series on Uyghur internment in China.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Nearly 200 companies join Time’s Up to reimagine the U.S. caregiving economy

May 24, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic revealed some alarming deficiencies in U.S. infrastructure—including caregiving policy. When schools across the country closed their doors, nearly 75 million children were suddenly stuck at home. And with quarantines limiting contact to close family members, the burden of caregiving was largely shouldered by mothers—over 2 million of them, many of whom were juggling full-time jobs, Fast Company reports.

But 24/7 motherhood is a full-time job, and that’s a lot to balance. According to a report from Harvard Business School, 33% of all U.S. employees have left a job during their career to handle a caregiving responsibility—a dire statistic backed up by the experience of families during the pandemic.

The National Women’s Law Center reported that women have lost more than three decades of progress in labor participation in just one year—and just the first month of the pandemic erased a decade of gains following the Great Recession.

In an effort to rewrite the story, the Washington, D.C.-based Time’s Up Foundation—which advocates for “safe, fair, and dignified work for women of all kinds”—is partnering with a coalition of nearly 200 companies to better support working caregivers. Major names include Spotify, Pixar, Levi Strauss, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, and

Together they’re forming the Care Economy Business Council, with the goal of reshaping workplace practices and cultural norms that force women to choose between flourishing professionally and tending to family. Members will also advocate for public policy that offers federally funded family and medical leave and affordable child and elder care.

“Monolithic solutions built for a 9-5 era must be replaced with flexible care options accessible to all regardless of where, when or how a family lives and works,” CEO Tim Allen said in a statement. “More than [$11 trillion] of unpaid care work is done annually, primarily by women and women of color, and the lack of care solutions is driving them from the workforce. To stem that tide and fuel female workforce participation, the government and business communities must work together to drive the change we need.”

For businesses, Fast Company notes, it’s not just ideological; it’s a matter of cold, hard cash. During the pandemic, nearly 50% of manufacturing companies struggled to reassemble staff—whether furloughed or new hires—because workers had to stay home to watch their kids.

And when employees are denied caregiving benefits, employers pay hidden costs in turnover and absenteeism, impacting the broader economy. According to a Time’s Up report, a $77.5 billion annual investment in paid leave over 10 years would translate to 22.5 million new jobs and $220 billion in new economic activity.

“Sadly, we saw millions of women downshift their careers during the pandemic as daycares and schools were closed or disrupted,” Christy Pambianchi, the chief human resources officer at Verizon, said in a statement. “Together, we can build a brighter future with a caregiver framework that works for all and allows women to reach their full potential, personally and professionally. Because when women rise, so does the world.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

White Castle’s new designer uniforms include a doo-rag

April 16, 2021

When fast food forerunner White Castle asked its employees what they wanted in their newly redesigned uniforms, many asked for a doo-rag. So, the brand—famous for its hamburger sliders—commissioned the award-winning Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens to create one.

It’s the first time a fast-food chain has issued this hair accessory as part of its uniform, Fast Company reports.

Clemens first launched his label in 2005—making a name for himself with his androgynous garments and democratic approach to design, encapsulated by his tagline: “It’s not for you, it’s for everyone.” In 2017, Clemens won the top prize of $400,000 from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Vogue Fashion Fund, cementing his status as one of the country’s most significant designers.

This week, White Castle and Clemens unveiled the updated look as part of the burger joint’s 100th anniversary celebrations. For the occasion, photographer Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. captured employees wearing the outfits in an intimate portrait series that offers a glimpse into the their lives during the pandemic. Like much of Clemens’ work, the collection pushes the boundaries of inclusivity in fashion, making the case that fast-food workers—whose labor is wildly undervalued in the American market—deserve great design.

What’s more, Fast Company notes, Clemens has a longstanding relationship with White Castle. In 2015, while gearing up for New York Fashion Week, his after-party sponsor pulled out and his team rushed to find an alternative. They gave White Castle a call to see if the company might step in, partly because Clemens has always loved the chain.

Jamie Richardson, VP of marketing at White Castle, was on the other end of the line. “It was such an intriguing proposition,” he says. “We’re a family-owned company and didn’t have an enormous budget, but I suggested we have the after party at the White Castle on 8th Avenue in New York. He laughed, thinking I was joking.”

But Richardson wasn’t joking. On September 15, Clemens hosted an unforgettable party at the White Castle in Hell’s Kitchen, DJed by the cult musicians Joey LaBeija and Michael Magnan. There was a do-it-yourself bar, along with plenty of sliders. “The cool kids of New York showed up,” Richardson says. “I was there in my suit flicking the light switch up and down to create a disco.”

White Castle has used these uniforms ever since, but Clemens has made several updates. In 2018, he released a shirt with the word “family” on it and the year after, he released one that said “true.” Richardson says that White Castle updates its uniform every 18 months, which is typical in the fast-food sector, but he points out that brands usually takes this opportunity to highlight a new slogan or product. Rather than treating workers as a human billboard, White Castle worked with Clemens to make each update feel like a limited-edition drop.

The brand frequently surveys employees about the uniforms and these latest outfits reflect some of this feedback. Some said their aprons covered up their designer T-shirts, so White Castle asked Clemens to  create an apron that would complement the outfit. Others asked for a doo-rag, a quintessentially African American hair accessory originally worn by enslaved people in the 19th century that went on to become a fashion statement in the Black Power movement in the 1960s. He designed one in White Castle’s iconic royal blue.

Clemens also created a limited-edition collection sold through his own brand, featuring a mashup of White Castle’s and Telfar’s logos, with proceeds going to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Liberty and Justice Fund, which provides bail to imprisoned minors.

One quarter of White Castle’s workforce has been with the company for over a decade and, since these uniforms launched, employee engagement scores have tracked upward. As Richardson tells Fast Company: “We wandered into this relationship, but we’ve found that it’s a rich, creative partnership.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

A family death can mean a nightmare of forms—but this app wants to help you through the process

April 13, 2021

When a loved one dies, there’s suddenly a long to-do list to slog through: You have to make the funeral arrangements, probate the will, and cancel services such as cable and internet—all under the heavy cloak of grief.

Indeed, 540 hours of work typically are required to settle a loved one’s estate—often with little help or support . But now, a new company called Empathy aims to guide people through those logistics, and also provide emotional support for their loss, reports Fast Company.

“Grief is made hard by logistics, and logistics are made even harder by grief,” says CEO Ron Gura, who cofounded the company with Yonatan Bergman, after meeting on-the-job at WeWork.

Now available in the United States on IOS and Android, Empathy serves as a digital companion for those dealing with a loss—part “Headspace for grief” and part “TurboTax for estate settlement,” Gura told Fast Company.

The app starts by asking users questions, such as their location, because states have varying probate laws; and religion, in case there are traditional arrangements of which the app needs to be aware.

Then, it guides the user down different paths—from Immediate Arrangements, to Searching for Documents, to Bills and Debt.

Throughout the estate-managing process, it can feel like you need to become an expert on all different laws and procedures. “You read about the rules in Florida and the rules in New York; what to do with five kids, what to do with one; with a will, without a will. We want to take that clutter away and only show you what is relevant to you,” Gura says.

“It’s almost like a second job, and it’s painful, it’s overwhelming, and you don’t know what to do first,” Gura says, noting that the hope is that Empathy can provide a one-stop way to complete all of those tasks. The platform breaks down each into different steps, and pre-fills or even automates some for you—like closing a Comcast account, or checking eligibility for veterans benefits.

“We can, with your permission, do a lot of the heavy lifting for you,” Gura says. “That’s the difference between sympathy, flowers, and condolences to empathy, technology, and services. Not just saying the right thing but actually taking some of it off your chest.”

Users can upload documents to Empathy’s “vault,” an encrypted drive on the cloud, and reach out to the Empathy helpline to ask questions or find a therapist, lawyer, or other service. Those answering the helpline have been trained by a legal and grief team, and the founders worked with not only software developers and product designers, but also estate lawyers and grief experts to create the Empathy platform.

The app is free for the first month, and then costs a one-time fee of $65. Gura says there are no added fees or extra charges that come up for completing tasks, and articles that outline different steps are also available online for free. “We’re trying to build a trustworthy brand in this nontrivial category,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is lose the trust and support from our families.” That one-time fee also lets users go through the estate process at their own pace, without worrying about a monthly charge. (It’s also deductible from the estate.) h.

The end-of-life industry has slowly started to become updated, with online platforms to help people write their own wills and companies focused on starting conversations about death and all the planning it needs.

Gura hopes Empathy can upend it even more, challenging the traditional market that, he says, “leaves a lot of families overcharged and overwhelmed,” by democratizing estate settlement and making it an easier process to go through. After a funeral, “eventually you’re home, looking at, say, your father’s desk, piles of paperwork, tedious tasks, a lot of bureaucracy—and at that moment, you’re alone,” he says. “We don’t want you to be alone.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Heads up! Mr. Potato Head is getting a rebrand for the 21st-century

Febraury 26, 2021

Next fall, you’re cordially invited to Mr. Potato Head’s wedding. He’s marrying his partner of many years, another Potato Head. And they promise it’s going to be the party of the year, with—you guessed it—plenty of spuds on the menu.

The Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based toy giant Hasbro is rebranding its iconic Mr. Potato Head toy by dropping the “Mr.” from the name, reports Fast Company.

On the surface, it may seem like a subtle shift, but it is designed to break away from traditional gender norms, particularly when it comes to creating Potato Head families—which is how toddlers frequently play with the toy, according to Hasbro’s research. But when the new brand is unveiled, kids will have a blank slate to create same-sex families or single-parent families. It’s a prime example of the way heritage toy brands are evolving to stay relevant in the 21st century.

Hasbro launched Mr. Potato Head in 1952 for the princely sum of $0.98 (or $10 in today’s currency). Back then, families had to supply their own real potato, which kids could then turn into little people thanks to plastic pieces in the box, such as hands, feet, and eyes, and accessories such as a pipe, and felt pieces that were meant to be mustaches.

The following year, Mrs. Potato Head launched with feminized accessories, such as hair bows and red high heels. The Potato Heads were the first toys to be marketed directly to kids, that strategy worked like gangbusters: More than one million kits were sold in the first year.

The enduring success of Potato Head comes down to its sheer silliness, Kimberly Boyd, an SVP and GM at Hasbro who works on the Potato Head brand told Fast Company. The idea of a potato person with an enormous mustache is universally hilarious, particularly to the sensibilities of small children. But after that initial laugh, Boyd says that kids continue to engage with the toy because it provides a canvas onto which they can project their own experiences.

“The sweet spot for the toy is two to three years old,” she says. “Kids like dressing up the toy, then playing out scenarios from their life. This often takes the form of creating little potato families, because they’re learning what it means to be in a family.”

Over the decades, the Potato Head brand has explicitly played into this tendency to create families. It has sold Mr. Potato Head family sets, with a male and a female character, along with smaller potato children. In 2012, Hasbro celebrated the 60th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head with a boxed set featuring the couple.

But eight years later, the brand wants to stop leaning so heavily into this traditional family structure. “Culture has evolved,” she says. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists—with the “Mr.” and “Mrs.”—is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

The brand’s solution is to drop the gendered honorific title altogether. This means the toys don’t impose a fixed notion of gender identity or expression, freeing kids to do whatever feels most natural to them: A girl potato might want to wear pants and a boy potato might wear earrings.

Hasbro also will sell boxed sets that don’t present a normative family structure. This approach is clever because it allows kids to project their own ideas about gender, sexuality, and family onto the toy, without necessarily offending parents that have more conservative notions about family.

Research contact: @FastCompany