The crowbar is the simplest of tools: It’s a bent piece of metal. One end is thin, allowing leverage between cracks. It works so well that the crowbar has gone mostly unchanged for hundreds of years. (There are direct references to the "crowbar" in literature as early as 1400, though it’s likely much older.)
Yet even the crowbar has room for improvement. The Hultafors wrecking bar 209, a 2012 Red Dot award winner by Ergonomidesign’s David Crafoord, is an example of how seemingly simple refinements can greatly enhance the usability of a product.
The first and most obvious updates was a rubber grip, shaped to fit well in a hand. "A quite evident opportunity for improvement, but surprisingly no one has done it before," Crafoord tells Co.Design. It’s remarkably low-hanging fruit, but Crafoord is right: I’ve searched through dozens of crowbars—with price as no limit—and they’re all bare metal that simply can’t feel very comfortable to hold. Plus, Hultafors now has an inherently branded device. Their crowbar that looks different from any other crowbar on the shelf.
The second update was an articulating claw. "If you have been working with a crowbar you know that you end up in really awkward working positions as well as sometimes impossible situations," explains Crafoord. But by changing the angle of a crowbar’s wedge within the crowbar, the tool can work around the users, rather than making the user work around the tool.
Both of Crafoord’s improvements are palm-on-head fantastic in retrospect. In fact, they raise the question, really, in the 600+ history of the crowbar, how did no one come up with this approach first?
"Well, it seems like some designers are going for fancier projects and perhaps don’t see the beauty in tools like this one," says Crafoord. Maybe he’s right. Or, at least, maybe he’s right enough that we should all be digging through our tool kits (both figurative and literal) for a few new ideas.