Japanese design studio Nendo created an entirely new key to show what a big difference subtle changes can make.
The key, posted to the studio’s website this month, looks a lot like the one you use to unlock your front door: small, metal, with a short protruding blade with teeth. However, the key head—the rounded part you turn to rotate the key—looks fundamentally different. It has a new shape that not only improves the function of the key—it also shows that even the most mundane, ubiquitous objects are worth revision.
The key Nendo designed is L-shaped, which functionally turns the key head into a lever, just like an Allen wrench. It’s a major improvement that applies some basic rules of physics to reduce the effort required to turn the key. (Essentially, the longer the lever, the less force required to perform the same task.) Adding more leverage makes the key a lot more accessible to older users or people with mobility challenges, who might have a harder time turning a key in a disagreeable lock.
The asymmetry of the L-shape has another functional benefit: It indicates how to properly hold the key. So if you’re fumbling with a key late at night, or have poor vision, you can ensure you’re inserting it into the doorknob correctly just by feeling that the lever shape is pointing downward (or whatever direction it usually points in for that lock). The key is also made of brass, which is antimicrobial (like its alloys copper and bronze). It’s unclear whether this key design is being used or currently in production, but since the teeth perform just like any other key, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t work with existing keyholes.