Think ‘power tools ‘and words like ‘robust, rugged and functional’ spring to mind. What you probably don’t think is ‘sleek, sexy and desirable’. The power tools industry has long been traditional, with professional builders and committed DIY-ers caring little for niceties.
Enter the Ixo, launched by Bosch in 2003 – a small, sleek and decidedly cute cordless screwdriver. Bosch also offers the Isio, a marvel of a garden trimmer, while Black & Decker has the nifty Mouse sander, and there’s the revolver range from new kid on the block Worx. In the 21st century, it seems, power tool manufacturers targeting the domestic DIY market have realised that customers are demanding a bit more design flair.
Hans-Peter Aglassinger of Teams Design, the consultancy responsible for creating Bosch’s power tools, says there is a new target customer: the ‘chorists’. ‘They are not passionate. They are beginners, often female, and not into the rugged, robust, extremely powerful aspect of power tools,’ says Aglassinger. For the chorist, a power tool needs to be attractive, new and different, he says. Ergonomics are important, but ‘not in a way that it must be completely rattle-free and not vibrate’. Rather, it’s a case of ‘feel it, touch it, love it, buy it’, he explains.
Mark Stratford, industrial design manager of Black & Decker in the UK, agrees. The brand’s new Autoselect range, for example, automatically adjusts speed and clutch settings to suit the task via a set of icons, giving the user a sense of satisfaction and ‘task completion’. Stratford adds that, ‘Aesthetics and styling have become really important. In power tools, consumers look for durability, robustness and functionality, but they also buy iPods, cars and flat-screen TVs, so there’s an expectation that something should look like it was designed in the 21st century.’ Bavarian manufacturer Einhell is also dragging its wares into the new millennium, relaunching its entire range, replacing the yellow models of yesteryear with a shiny, streamlined, modernised new generation of blue.
Another increasingly important consumer is the female user, but talk of ‘pink and fluffy’ replacing the principles of good design is anathema to manufacturers.
‘Every woman in Europe knows that Bosch is related to technical expertise,’ says Aglassinger. ‘So it’s not necessary to apply lady-like pink to products. Women don’t like to buy special tools, because it’s discriminating. They want to buy the right tools for the work.’ Stratford echoes this sentiment, saying, ‘If you get the design right, it will satisfy everyone, including females – a really comfortable drill will be good for everybody.’
It’s not just the customer that dictates design. Aglassinger says that Teams Design constantly reviews trends – from the macro-economical to fashion and other design disciplines – and applies those influences in the development of Bosch’s tools.
A good example is the Isio garden trimmer, which was launched in 2007. At the time of its conception, design tended towards the sharp-edged and wedge-shaped, with car company Ford, for example, talking of a dynamic, ‘new-edge design’, says Aglassinger. ‘The front end of the Isio reflects this new edge styling’. Recently, an Asian aesthetic has been absorbed in Europe. ‘We call it “Asian lily”,’ Aglassinger explains. ‘The influence is rounder, surfaces are more blended, the design is more harmonious.’ This year’s Uneo features rounder and softer gripping areas, while the body edges in the motor-gear box area still give the tool a high-performance look despite the Asian influence.
Newcomer Worx says one of its key strategies is to target users that are ‘younger thinkers and early adopters’, as its head of design, Paolo Andriolo, puts it. Its distinct designs, including lime neon colours, certainly offer an alternative aesthetic. The Revolver range, aimed at the DIY market, was designed with functionality and ergonomics as important factors. For example, the range’s grips are created to be as close to a hand’s neutral posture as possible. Worx’s range stands out because of its new aesthetic, and has secured a UK market share of 15 per cent since its launch, says Andriolo.
Other recent launches, such as Black & Decker’s VPX products, have not been successful. Introduced earlier this year with glossy white, orange and black rubber surfaces, it marked a sleek departure for Black & Decker, but didn’t take off.
Aglassinger points out that, despite the effort to attract the ‘chorist’, functionality and innovation are the main drivers for good design. For example, the Bosch Ixo drill/screwdriver was the first to use lithium-ion batteries, allowing the product to shrink by 50 per cent. The brand itself is also important. ‘Bosch products need to communicate [the message] “I am reliable – no matter what kind of tool I am, I have enough power to deal with a problem”,’ says Aglassinger.
Stratford says there’s a limit to how inventive the power tools industry should get. ‘Most people don’t “aspire” to getting a new screwdriver,’ he points out. ‘You’ve got to keep your feet on the ground and remember who you’re selling to. DIY is a chore, and not a particularly pleasurable one. Nevertheless, as designers, we still aspire to add a degree of desirability.’