Designed for Arthritis, Designed for All

CLIENT: Melnor


SERVICES: Research, Strategy, Design, Engineering, Prototyping

Priority Designs conducted generative research with users who were arthritic, or had dexterity limitations to design a line of watering nozzles that better suited their needs.  Our research led to a variety of insights related to both ergonomics and features.  Our designs, beginning with 2D sketches and developed through 3D CAD, renderings, animations, and prototypes, received the Arthritis Foundation Ease of Use Commendation.

Building on a Strong Foundation

Melnor has produced watering products for home and professional users for nearly 80 years and Priority Designs has had the opportunity to help design several lines of their watering nozzles and other products and were asked to rethink the nozzle experience with an emphasis on older users, and users with arthritis.

Some of these users struggle with existing nozzles due to them being bulky, awkward, or painful to use.  Priority Designs’ job was to better understand these unmet needs, and design a series of nozzles that was not only suitable for them, but a good experience for all demographics.

Qualitative Interviews

Our researchers talked to users who struggled with reduced dexterity to better understand their unique needs. We visited a variety of people who use watering products either at home or at work and conducted qualitative interviews which allowed a deep dive into their usage, habits, and preferences.

Our first step was to visit the users at their homes or jobs and have them explain and demonstrate the tasks they typically perform with their personal nozzles.

Next, our researchers presented the users with a variety of current nozzles and ask them what they liked and disliked.  This discussion let the users talk freely about their preferences and their pain points.

Following the in-home visits, our researchers took the users on shop-alongs to see what nozzles they would purchase, given a choice.  We asked the users to verbalize their thoughts as they shopped which helped us understand their decision making process.

Some of the users’ insights, like fit and finish, were production related and could be addressed in manufacturing.  Many of their insights, though, pointed to unmet needs.  Some of these needs required improved ergonomics, some were cosmetic and some were feature related.  All of these needs, though, were the opportunities our designers were looking for.

As industrial designers, we’re experienced with the ergonomic needs of our users.  However, since the primary focus of this project was to target arthritic and lower dexterity users, we wanted to make sure we were targeting their specific needs.  To help do this, Priority Designs contacted the Arthritis Foundation, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Our designers learned quite a bit about what makes a product successful for arthritic and older users, and also what we needed to avoid.  Some of the insights were fairly obvious, like making controls big and easy to grip. However, many of the insights were subtle, and required close attention to the geometry and graphics of the nozzles as well as the properties of the mechanical components.

All of the generative research we gathered was collected in a summary document.  This document identified all the participants, the research methods and results.  The document also identified the users’ frustrations, purchase motivators, and design opportunities.  Lastly, we supplemented the design opportunities with guidance from the Arthritis Foundation.

Actionable Insights

With insights gained from research, our designers knew what functionality the nozzles required.  We also knew the client wanted the new nozzles to look fresh and friendly, while still relating to the previous line of nozzles, which had a tough, heavy-duty visual language.  Our designers also wanted the designs to visually communicate they were comfortable and easy to use before the customer even touched them.

Our designers’ concept exploration and development began in 2D, using Photoshop software and sketching on Wacom Cintiq tablets.  This is a quick and effective way to communicate our thoughts and to get quick feedback from our client.

The concepts we presented showed softened, refined versions of the bold visual elements featured on the previous line of nozzles.  The concepts also highlighted usability features, such as a larger, outboard trigger locks, large grip features on articulating components, as well as aggressive textures on key touch points.  However, the feature that communicated comfort and ease-of-use more than anything else was the use of gel-like translucent silicone in the major grip areas.

In addition to the standard nozzle form factor, an entirely new product emerged from our concept development:  a nozzle that can twist and change grip orientation.  From our research, we learned that there are two grip orientations that users prefer:  a “pistol” grip for watering flowers and other normal tasks, and a “flashlight” grip for watering lawns and other longer tasks.


Once we had a design direction approved by our client, we began developing the forms in 3D CAD using SolidWorks.  As we developed the forms in CAD, we also fleshed out the line.  All in all, there were nine unique products:  two rear trigger nozzles, two thumb-wheel nozzles, the new twisting nozzle, and four wand products.

As each product was completed in CAD, we were able to rapid prototype the parts in-house and quickly evaluate the ergonomics of the grips, triggers and other dexterity related features.  We shared the models with our client and gained useful feedback from their evaluations as well.  Based on all of our observations, our designers made a number of adjustments to the CAD to improve the overall function and feel of the products.

Once the final designs were locked, our designers utilized the CAD databases for pre-visualization renderings to evaluate colors, textures, graphics, and other finishes.  We used Keyshot for these renderings which allows us to explore variations quickly and efficiently.  These renderings also provide accurate targets for the prototypes when we specify colors, materials, and finishes.

Keyshot renderings were also useful for catalog photography and trade show booth visuals since the actual products didn’t exist, yet.

Concepts Made Real

After the CAD was updated to improve the ergonomics, it was further developed for fabricating looks-like, feels-like prototypes.  While the majority of the nozzles were fairly straight forward to execute, the gel concepts required some additional R&D.  The gel components on the models, being translucent and soft to the touch, would have to be cast from urethane.  And since the parts were translucent, they would achieve their color both from the tint in the material, and the parts beneath.  To make sure we got the color we wanted, we developed several tools for evaluating the tint.  Most notably, a cylindrical mold with an offset insert to evaluate various thicknesses of gel material.

There are several methodologies for finishing prototypes.  A simple method is to fabricate the prototype as a single part, and then mask and paint various colors as needed.

A method that often achieves higher quality results is to fabricate individual parts for each unique color, finish or texture.  While this method can produce higher quality results, it also means there are many more parts to manage.  In this case, there would be 100+ parts needed for the nine unique prototypes.  To help manage this process, we utilize model designator documents to track and identify parts, colors finished, graphics, etc.  These designators are generally renderings of the CAD databases, exploded out to identify the individual parts.

In addition to fabricating and finishing rapid prototype parts, we also needed to create soft touch, translucent parts for the products that had gel grips.  This required creating silicone molds, securing the base model parts in the molds and injecting the tinted urethane (developed earlier) into the mold, over the base part.  After the urethane cures in the mold, the completed part is removed, and any excess material, or “flash,” is cleaned up.

The prototypes without gel had unique challenges, as well.  For the grip areas on the nozzles, we developed a unique tri-point repeating texture.  To replicate this on the models, we laser cut the pattern out of vinyl, and hand applied the texture wherever there was a grippable area on the handles or triggers.  This was a painstaking process, but the results were effective.

Additionally, several of the nozzles were designed for a premium price point, and had a brushed metal appearance.  To achieve this, key parts of those nozzles were plated with nickel and hand textured with a brushed finish.

Finally, all of the graphics, icons and logos were cut from vinyl on our laser cutter and hand-applied.

The completed prototypes were used in product line reviews with both Melnor’s existing and new customers.  They were very well received and helped Melnor grow the number of SKUs with existing customers and gain new SKUs with new customers.

Strength in Numbers

All in all, the core products Priority Designs designed with Melnor led to a family of fourteen new products all currently in production.

Additionally, once the concepts were on-track for production, they were presented to the Arthritis Foundation for evaluation.  Eight of the new products met the Foundation’s standards and were awarded their Ease of Use commendation.

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