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Closeup of a hand writing "I'm a lefty"

It’s Not All Right

April 27, 2021
A left-handed engineer finds value in considering the other hand.

Roughly 10% of the people in the world are left-handed, an increase of just three percentage points in the last 100 years. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, Marie Curie, Jimi Hendrix, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Leonardo da Vinci, David Bowie and Lady Gaga are among more famous lefties.

So why aren’t more products designed to include the southpaw user experience? As a lefty myself, I pursued my engineering career in part because of my frustration over the lack of left hand-friendly consumer products.

Ever think about how left-handed people zip up their jackets, use scissors or swing golf clubs? If you’re not a lefty, probably not. Righties don’t often consider that the world was designed for them—for example, all door handles turn to the right. The lefty experience is backwards.

Centuries ago, product inventors were more thoughtful. Think of the design of a paint brush: It doesn’t matter which way you hold it. But now that product design is faster and technically driven, considerations like that often fall by the wayside. Here are my tips for making sure your product design is not “left out.”  

Put buttons and handles in the middle. Whether it’s a website, microwave oven or chainsaw, your left-handed consumers are going to appreciate not having to awkwardly reach or drag their mouse to the right to make things work. A center location is easy for everyone. But if you absolutely must put buttons or handles on the right, consider making them extra-large.

Remember that it’s not just easy-to-reach button and handle placement that improves the product effectiveness for lefties: Oftentimes, something as simple as using a right-handed pen can be physically uncomfortable for a southpaw, as their stronger hand is not doing the work. Making things more ergonomically correct for your left-handed consumers will also encourage brand loyalty.

Test-drive your product with both hands. Besides the 1% ambidextrous population, everyone has a dominant side and it’s easy to forget dual-handed product testing. Mark this off a checklist before your design is complete.  

Be friendly, but don’t go nuts. If you design specifically for a left-handed market, note that the consumer price for your product will be higher than similar right-handed items, as there is less demand for them—although many lefties would argue that they’d happily pay to make their lives considerably easier. Most product design, especially with software and online or electronic products, is more of a balancing act.

In reality, the percentage of left-handed consumers actively using your product is probably lower than that of your physically impaired or colorblind users. Moving keys or rearranging layouts for lefties doesn’t make sense if it damages user experience for right-handed people. A magnified above-finger view on a touch screen, for example, helps all consumers navigate websites easily.

Michael Sprauve is president and CEO for Speck Design, brings more than 20 years of engineering leadership to his Silicon Valley product design company. He earned his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Boston University.

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