Harsh Criticism Leads to Significant Changes in Product Designs

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A selection of Hovey’s Knives of China Knives with many showing the oval ring grip typical of the designs. 

When you are a knife maker as well as a writer, it is sometimes difficult to take criticism of your own designs, but if you are going to sell consumer goods it makes since to pay close attention to what people say, especially if they do not like your product. In my case I have a business, Hovey ‘s Knives of China, where I take inspiration of Chinese kitchen knives made 3000 years ago in bronze and now make them out of modern steels in my shop in Central Georgia.

A distinctive feature of many of these knives is an oval ring on the end of the grip which is designed to fit in the palm of the hand and has three significant functions: A. It provides an absolutely non-slip grip. B. It permits the knife to be hung by the work station so that  it does not dull in a drawer or take up work space in a knife block. and C. It is used as a pestle to break up spices in a bowl. If a person’s hand is precisely the size to grasp the oval in the middle of the palm this design works well. However, Western cooks are taught to use knives differently with the hands wrapped around an oblate or round grip, and an end cap, if any, sticks out beyond the hand. The index finger also does not ride on top of the blade, as is useful when the oval end is grasped in the palm. Another person, a large-handed guy, said that he liked the shape of one of my smaller blades, but the entire grip was too small, with the exception of the very largest of our knives, the Cabbage and Duck Chopper which has a 11-inch blade and correspondingly large grip.

Peg Cabbage and Duck Chopper

As these are custom-made knives, I offer many custom features on the blades. These include right and left handed grinds, pencil or truncated points, and type of edge. These criticisms indicated to me that I need to also offer similar flexibility in grip designs. However authentic and distinctive my oval-ended grips might be, they are impediments to many potential consumers. The obvious solution is to offer a “Western Design Option” where this feature is removed and the grip can be enlarged or reduced. This is done by using the “hidden tang” method of construction where the tang is completely enclosed by the grips or a “partial tang” method where a portion of the tang is exposed on one or both sides of the handle.

I am going to continue to offer the grips with the Ovals as “Classic Knives,”  and with the new grip option as the “Modern Chinese Knife.” For several years we have included a sheet for a hand tracing on our order form. This redesign will allow us to make knives that fit the customer’s hand, independent of the size of the blade to allow the fullest possible range of customer options. Changes in the grip design will also allow us to reduce the price of product, sometimes by as much as $100 because of the amount of extra hand work required to finish the oval-gripped knives.

In my case paying attention to what my potential customers were saying has inspired me to sell a better product at a lessor price. Pay attention. It pays.

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