The Scissor’s Design Recut!

Before I discovered the awesomeness of the Exacto-knife I used scissors all the time and found that they tended to cramp my fingers or dull or become loose after prolonged use. They were particularly cumbersome to use when I wanted to cut out something small and detailed from something thin and flat, like paper or foil. Despite my preference for the Exacto in most situations, I still find that using scissors is most preferable in other situations, such as when cutting vegetables, clay or fabric. Below are a pair of scissors I use frequently, whose design I will then dissect.

a) The two blades of the scissors are nice and sharp, despite a lot of use, and still tight: with most scissors the little screw holding the two blades together gets loose with time and it gets difficult to cut neatly and cleanly. Towards the tip and the fulcrum of the blades there is less tension, so the blades do not slide as neatly together. The design is very simple, clean and to the point, so anyone can just pick it up and use it without getting distracted by any ruffles or frills. One handle is a smaller circular loop that the thumb clearly goes through: an indent on the other side lets the thumb rest comfortably while using the scissors. With the other handle it is not as clear if the longer handle is for three or four fingers. The space allotted for the fingers is also not as generous as the space allotted for the thumb: when using these scissors for a prolonged period of time my middle and ring finger in particular start to cramp.  The material used for the scissors is sturdy, though a more comfortable, spongier plastic for the handles might have been nicer.

b) Using these scissors is relatively simple due to the intuitive design: the only major flaw detracting from the user experience is the design of the top handle. As mentioned before, the shape of the handle does not offer as much room as the bottom handle does for the thumb and it is not clear whether the space is for three or four fingers. The sharpness and construction of the scissors makes it clean and simple to use, and efficient in situations where a short snip is needed, but drawbacks become apparent in situations where the scissors are needed for prolonged periods of time. The lack of tension at the tip and fulcrum makes small, detailed snips tedious and sometimes impossible and the large size hinders the maneuverability of the scissors.

c) Feedback, visibility and affordance are particularly important in simple everyday tools like the pair of scissors for a high score of usability and user experience. Constraints are also important and may play a part in the affordance of the design. Other factors that are also highly important are its durability, the quality of its performance, its versatility and how easy and comfortable it is to use. Feedback is quick and a given in a simple hand-manipulated tool such as this. For such a simple handheld device the three most important factors to keep in mind would be affordance, performance and its comfortable ease of use. High affordance means that good constrants and visibility make the use of the simple tool intuitive. A high quality performance means the tool does its job cleanly and accurately: the result of its high-quality work is the feedback. Versatility, durability and ease of use are also important factors I look for, but if the tool I am using lacks in performance, then most other design factors cannot compensate for its shoddiness. Finally, the ease and comfortableness of the product will determine if this is a tool that I am willing to work with for long periods of time. A product that requires a lot of procedures or energy to use, or a product that happens to strain my muscles is not appealing. If the product is designed with the user’s anatomy in mind chances are it will have high affordance and be pleasantly comfortable to use. These three factors in particular will lend to the usability and user experience associated with such a handheld tool.

d) From the aforementioned set of factors come a set of three important questions:

  1. Does the design of the device give the user an intuitive sense of how to properly grasp and use it? Is its affordance and visibility high?
  2. Is the device’s performance of its most basic function(s) somewhat satisfactory? What factors affect its performance?
  3. Is the device easy and comfortable to use, keeping its usage painless and comfortable over extended periods of time?

Based on these three questions, the device does reasonably well according to questions 1 and 2: the indent on the other side of the scissors’ bottom handle helps to emphasize the idea that the thumb goes through that particular loop to then settle on the indent. The top handle could be better designed to give a clearer idea of the number of fingers that go through it. The scissors also perform well, despite its age, although the tip of the scissors is a bit dull. The large size of the blades also makes the scissors difficult to use and maneuver for more detailed cuts. Overall it performs its most basic function, cutting, well. Unfortunately the problems with the design of the top handle makes it score poorly on comfortable ease of use over extended periods of time. Over time, it does become painful and difficult to use the tool due to the strain the small arc of the top handle places on the middle and ring finger. When working on time-consuming projects I am therefore more inclined to use some other cutting tool, such as an Exacto knife, if it is possible.

f) Based on the sniplets of analysis and dissection, I have come up with the following re-design:

One other small problem that I noted with the scissors is that it does not accommodate left-handed individuals, which detracts from its versatility of use. Scissors are designed so that the natural tendency of the thumb to move past the fingers when clenching the hand subtly pushes the blades together, increasing tension. It is therefore important to have the blade pushed down by the top fingers be the blade facing the user: in other words, for a left-handed individual to comfortably use the above scissors comfortably, they would have to place their top fingers through the thumb-loop and the thumb through the larger handle. By replacing the small thumb-handle with a large handle, it is possible for the left-handed to use the scissors. In order to maintain the scissors’ high affordance, however, the indent that marks where the thumb rests will be placed on the appropriate handle for both right-handed and left-handed users. The shape of the loop will also be changed to better accommodate the natural arc of the hand, and the bolt that holds both blades of the scissors together will be changed to a screw, allowing the tension between the blades to become adjustable. The blades can then also be separated at any time to allow the blades to be sharpened, maintaining the device’s performance. The blades are also ever-so-slightly curved, keeping the tension between the blades to the tip high and consistent. Lastly, the size of the blades have slightly decreased, allowing the user to manipulate the scissors through tighter corners.


About foldingwishes

I am a 3rd year CM major interested in animation and narratology. I believe that design is important and highly applicable to all fields and that good design creates enjoyable experiences. My favorite shows are Samurai Jack, My Life as a Teenage Robot and Avatar the Last Airbender and my favorite movies are Le Grande Chef, Ratatouille and the Great Mouse Detective.
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