In an effort to document more of my process on this site, I thought I would use this blog to share some projects that I’ve worked on in the past few months. First up, the redesign of a tool handle, namely, the whisk.

The brief of this project was simple: Redesign the handle of a tool with the universal design principles in mind. My partner, Vanessa and I selected the hand whisk.

As with most projects, the first step of the design process was Observation and Research. During this stage, Vanessa and I gathered eight whisks to explore and compare. We developed a comparative analysis table to compile all the market research we did on the eight whisks, which provided us with a lot of insightful information about the current market and design opportunities to explore later on in the process.

lineup of eight whisks
The eight whisks we analyzed and compared.

comparative analysisComparative analysis of the eight whisks we surveyed.

During this stage, Vanessa and I split up our additional tasks. While Vanessa drew out an exploded view of a standard whisk, I took a trip to the Museum of Natural History to look at primitive tools for inspiration. Vanessa also created a historical product timeline and cultural survey in order to trace the whisk’s origins, history, and variations and usage across the world while I conducted research on our tool’s relationship to the human body.

ergonomic study
Ergonomic study of a standard whisk versus our whisk handle redesign. Our product minimizes strain in the upper arm that one might typically experience when whisking with a standard whisk.

In order to get a better understanding of the muscles and skeletal structure of the body when whisking, I watched many videos of people whisking, read about ergonomics, and created a photographic overlay which highlighted the affected areas of the body when interacting with the tool. At the end of this stage, we assessed our research and findings and compiled a list of design opportunities together.

design opportunity – whisking on an angle
After identifying design opportunities, we decided to focus primarily on whisking on an angle.

The next stage was Ideation and Exploration where we produced over 90 thumbnail ideation sketches (45+ drawings each). From there, I made 15 three-dimensional sketch models and Vanessa sketched 15 exploratory drawings. These tasks allowed us to explore form and its relation to function. Although these tasks were laborious in their own respects, our biggest task was creating “bucks” (working models) that tested various characteristics (i.e. length, width, angle, bulbousness, etc.) related to our designs. We ended up creating three bucks which tested the angle, bulbousness, and length of a whisk handle. This was the most intimidating part of the process for me as it required technical woodworking skills, which I was still getting used to.

inspiration board
Bent and angled forms were one of the things highlighted in our inspiration board. We noticed that it was a recurring motif in our earlier thumbnail ideation sketches.

sketch models
Sketch models I made during the Ideation phase.

Refinement and Testing was the next part of the process. We created three refined working models based off of our three original testing bucks. At this point, Vanessa and I were intent on creating a Y-shaped, offset handle. Two of the refined models tested the placement of the main handle in relation to the base while the other model was used to test a natural stain that Vanessa had concocted out of steel wool and vinegar.

 

a selection of refined testing models
A selection of testing bucks and refined models we made.
Aside from creating the three refined models, we tested two of them with a cafeteria staff member (an expert user) and some of our friends, created a project statement and user profile, compiled a materials and finish samples kit, created side-by-side comparative process trees which detailed the production and environmental costs of a standard whisk as well as our redesigned whisk, and created another photographic overlay examining the ergonomics of our whisk redesign.
user testing one of our models
User testing one of our working models.
The final stage of the process was creating a final model, with packaging, and an accompanying slide deck which outlined our process and highlighted the universal design principles that our product addressed. On critique day, we were given precisely five minutes to present and provide a rationale for our product redesign.
This is what we came up in the five weeks that we worked on this project:
project statement
Key Takeaways

DON'T BE TOO INVESTED IN A SINGLE IDEA, ESPECIALLY EARLIER ON IN THE PROCESS.
Committing to a single idea so early in the process limits possibilities and shuts down the potential for your outcome to grow and strengthen. Don’t rush to the end. Instead, allow ample time to observe and notice what’s revealed to you during the process. Let these insights build upon each other and ultimately, inform your final outcome.

 

IF YOU'RE WORKING WITH SOMEONE, GET TO KNOW THEM BETTER.
On day one, Vanessa and I communicated to each other our strengths, weaknesses, areas we would like to improve in, and what we would like to get out of the project. Being straightforward about our respective backgrounds helped us split up our work more efficiently, communicate and hold each other accountable.

For example, since I have a background in journalism (it’s my other area of study), I did most of the research and spearheaded our user testing efforts. In the meantime, Vanessa, who was looking to expand upon her drawing skills, did most of our drawings. In areas where found our weaknesses (woodworking) and strengths (graphic design) overlapped, we shared the responsibility.

In addition to sharing our backgrounds, we also got to know each other’s schedules and workloads better. This helped us arrange times to meet and work together every week.

 

DON'T JUST ASK FOR FEEDBACK AT THE END OF THE PROCESS.
Although we were generally in tune to noticing areas where our product could improve, we found it extremely helpful to ask our professor and peers for feedback throughout the entire process. When you’re working on a project at full speed, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and be oblivious to certain details that could use further improvement. This is when another set of eyes is useful.

 

GOOD DESIGN TAKES TIME.
Mind you, none of us get an eternity to work on a single project, however, this project taught me the merit of putting in the hours and being patient. It’s less than likely I’ll ever redesign a whisk handle again, but doing it once taught me so many lessons that I know will be applicable to future projects.

 

An in-depth slide deck of our process is available here.