One of the greatest challenges in design and engineering is to develop a product that fits well for the intended population of users, and functions well in the intended tasks and environments of use. Surprisingly, many engineers are unaware of even the most basic ergonomics principles and don’t realize there is a wealth of data on population strengths, sizes, and abilities. Not surprisingly, therefore, many of the products and tools we take for granted are not really designed well for their intended use, or for their intended users. We recently came across some tool designs that did incorporate good user-centered, ergonomic principles. They were designed with specific users and user needs in mind, for specific tasks.
Gardening is a popular hobby for many people, and a job for others. Unfortunately, for some people with strength or mobility limitations, the task of using large shovels and rakes can be problematic enough to dissuade them from gardening altogether. Several garden tool manufacturers have taken the needs of this population to the drawing board. What developed were tools specifically adaptive to a person’s needs.
For example, one designer has created trowels with features like telescoping handles, foam padding, forearm cuffs, and a second handle. The trowels are also made of a lightweight aluminum so they weigh less than traditional models. Additional handles including pistol grips and handles placed at 90 degrees to the traditional upright handle allows seated and wheelchair gardeners to dig in for spring flowers.
Many of these designs originally came from users adapting their own tools with cords, coat hangers, and duct tape to meet their needs. While some of these adaptive designs are still in prototype phases, others may be available, specifically in the United Kingdom, this spring.
Have you found an alternative tool design that works for you? If so, tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.