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Ergonomics, Systems, and Toothbrushes

Even for something as simple as toothbrushes, ergonomics and systems can have a significant impact.

unstabletoothbrush.jpgFig. 1: What's wrong with this picture?

Consider the image to the right. It's one of those typical, “squishy-handled” toothbrushes, the curvy shape of which is supposed to be ergonomic. It's also a toothbrush that is prone to tipping over, leading to toothpaste all over your countertop.

Since it seems clear that ergonomic toothbrush handles help one to properly clean one's teeth, this stability problem really needs to be fixed. If users find that their toothbrushes often tip, then they are less likely to buy the same toothbrush again. If that toothbrush will help them keep their teeth clean, then users not buying it will lead to worse oral hygiene, regardless of how ergonomic the toothbrush may be.

In the See Also section below are a number of links to documents that suggest:

  • There is a connection between handle design and proper teeth cleaning.
  • The connection is modest compared to the design of the bristles.
  • No one interested in toothbrush design appears to be taking a systemic view of the product.

A systemic view would require one to think of the interactions the toothbrush will have throughout all stages of use and not just the act of brushing one's teeth. Construction of reasonable situated use cases for all the stages of use of a toothbrush will reveal that at least some users will put the toothbrush on the bathroom counter after putting toothpaste on it but before using it. This will lead to investigations of how loaded/prepared toothbrushes rest on countertops, and that would lead to a clear indication of the potential for instability.

Some may wonder if it even matters. After all, it's just a toothbrush.

Of course it matters. Think of it this way. Say you're the designer of a poor toothbrush. The retail market for toothbrushes in the US, for instance, is well over a billion dollars; that's a lot of tooth brushes. Say only one in a million users of your toothbrush suffer ill effects from it; that will likely be hundreds of people.

Do you want to be the person who causes hundreds of people suffering one or another kind of oral disease? Do you want to be the root1) cause of the resulting expenses incurred by the health care system, just because you thought a systems perspective on toothbrush design was overkill?

See Also

No pun intended.
design/ergonomics_systems_and_toothbrushes.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)