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I loved that Instructables was running a Contest about creating Tools. And this frankly nudged me out of procrastination to finish writing this up, as I think this has a nice twist on who we make tools for...


Although I have made many tools (some technically 'unique' - e.g. Rabbet Tool (LINK) - which helped me and a team of makers put a superman doll into space for under $500), one of the most memorable has been creating a tool for someone with a very unique need...

Kyle was born limited use of his left hand, after a complication while in utero. As long as he can remember, he's always wanted to be a hairdresser, and although he has made valiant efforts to create his own tools to hold hair (in tension to be cut), they all have fallen short of the ideal.

As part of BBC Two's Big Life Fix, I was tasked with trying to help Kyle realise his dream career. This Instructables is as much about how to approach a challenge such as this, as the final tool itself. I hope that it is a useful guide and an inspiration not to underestimate the determination and courage of people like Kyle, and the power of communities who are interested in designing things that make a difference to people's lives.


If you'd like to do something similar, check out universities, or sign-up at Remap.org.uk

Step 1: Design, Build, Test. // Repeat...

Picture of Design, Build, Test. // Repeat...
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Although this picture showing the evolution of the design, is abridged - the process remains clear - it was very much about iterating after the initial breakthrough (see 'Eureka!').

However, a very broad range of ideas were considered, both in terms of the mechanism (should it be motorised?), and what the input should be (I experimented with MYO bands (electromyography) to see if I could take electrical signals from muscles elsewhere in the arm to act as the 'control signal to actuate the comb - but this seemed (in hindsight) over-complex, and I later realised not practicle for sterilisation, and furthermore - more prone to maintence issues).

The learning was that sometimes you need to walk into some unlikely/stupid/over-complex scenarios to fully understand and evaluate the suitability of this.

One interesting, and very personal aspect of this journey was that this tool needed not only to function, but to feel befitting of Kyle's trade - both his environment and to be convincing to clientele. So it was not enough to just make a contraption which might function but would look unconvincing in a Salon.

Safe to say, this Instructable does not describe all the myriad decisions both Kyle and I had to make, which will hopefully be useful to learn from should you do something similar / for someone else. Indeed, everything from 'tool vs hand' to 'robotic vs flesh' were complex and unfamiliar discussions to both of us, and require time to give each other space to make the right decision together.

Great work! This is one of the reasons why I like Instructables. Thanks.
WUVIE4 days ago
As I dragged out of bed, managed a cup of coffee, and sat down at the computer, I wondered what the day might bring. I casually clicked on Instructables, then came across your incredible post.

Thank you for giving me a positive outlook for the day. Absolutely fabulous Instructable!

The world needs more good eggs like you!
caitlinsdad15 days ago
Good design comes from the heart. Thank you.
Hey Jude (author)  caitlinsdad14 days ago
Thanks =)
Hey Jude (author) 15 days ago
Interview with Kyle: https://youtu.be/mJ2ia7lRa_4
LeslieGeee1 month ago
I was so intrigued with what you were doing I never noticed Kyles left hand in the pictures until you mentioned what happened to him in your third paragraph. AMAZING and EXCEPTIONALLY WELL DONE project. Your build a tool has now given Kyle the door to open to make his dream come true. Thank you so much for sharing your process. QUICK patent your invention LOL. Have you thought of doing this for a living? I am sure there is a need for it. "MAD HATTER MODIFICATIONS" (or creations / mAdifications ) : ) Bless you! You should make appliances to help with cutting food next! You have the base harness all you need is the fork/knife/spoon.
Hey Jude (author)  LeslieGeee1 month ago
Haha - the whole series is Open Source, so although we considered patenting, it was never the agenda of the team/BBC. I would not restrict anyone from iterating and taking this further, as it is clearly a niche product, but no less important to those who need it.

Do also check out Remap, link above ^^ as this is where you can find 'mad hatters' and be one also ;o) I love that places like this and Instructables make the world a little smaller to find solutions to things.
SusanH751 month ago
This is amazing. Hats off to you. Well Done.
Hey Jude (author)  SusanH751 month ago
Thanks! And to Kyle - it was as much a process of working with someone who was open and brave to take chances...
MattY401 month ago
Kyle is an amazing person. He clearly has all the determination he needs to do whatever he sets himself to. He just needed the tools. This must have been an incredibly fulfilling job for you.

This is a perfect example of what design can do, and why the democratization of the technology around it is so important.
Hey Jude (author)  MattY401 month ago
Yes - I think it was very clear from the TV show (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=big+life+fix+episode) that all of us designers had a huge learning curve - not just in terms of the technical, but empathy for the user(s). It's why I got into design - though I never imagined it'd take me places like this!
SusanH2741 month ago
Wow...
Hey Jude (author)  SusanH2741 month ago
=)