Innovative key turner helps open doors for millions with arthritis

Turning a key with a keywing.

London-based designer, Geoff Rolandsen shares how seeing his dad struggle to turn a key inspired him to invent the Keywing.

My Dad inspired my invention

My Keywing journey started when I visited my dad in Australia and, on the kitchen table, he had a big product that looked like a toddler’s toy. It was broken and ready to throw out.

He told me he’d bought this key turner on a whim, because he was struggling to turn the key for his shed. It was a small, rusty, old lock and as he has nerve damage and muscle deterioration in his hands, it meant he couldn’t get into his shed. It was driving him up the wall.

I thought there should be something better that he could use.

Design has always been a passion of mine. I have an architectural background, but I’ve worked with designers in the built environment industry who have inspired me.

The ‘key’ challenge stuck with me, and I started thinking of different ideas. My first prototype was the Workey – a shiny, zinc-alloy product designed to slide on and off keys when you needed it. It did the trick, but I knew it could work better.

The Design Council - sparking an idea

A friend told me about the Design Council Spark competition, which was searching for innovative new product ideas – particularly for people with arthritis. Versus Arthritis were collaborating with the Design Council to support several products on a 16-week accelerator programme.

I had nothing to lose and was fortunate enough to secure a position with the Workey. I was one of only 10 to get a position on the Design Council Spark programme, which also had an initial round of investment from Versus Arthritis.

Having the tick of approval from the charity was a huge confidence booster and made me realise it was worth improving the product to help the millions of people with arthritis.

I went to lots of user groups, so I could present the product to people with arthritis. These discussions were helpful to gather ideas on ways I could improve the design.

Bringing the design to life

There were three main things I needed to address when it came to the design of the Keywing.

The first was leverage. I needed to design the product so that users could turn a key with far less strength and pressure, so it wouldn’t hurt their hands. This meant designing a shape which reduced the pressure needed to turn the key.

The Keywing also makes the key bigger and far easier to grip and hold on to. People can often fumble and drop keys – particularly in winter, when hands are cold, and keys are wet and slippery.

The feedback that surprised me was the desire for vibrant colours. The Workey was shiny metal, which I thought looked sleek and unobtrusive on a keyring.

But the vast majority wanted bright colours – particularly those who said it would help them spot their keys around the house, or at the bottom of their handbag.

Countdown to launch

The Keywing was launched on 27 March 2019, after a huge learning curve during the design and manufacturing process.

I received great advice from industry professionals during the Spark programme, and it had taken 18 months from the initial design to get to this point.

I’ve had plenty of challenging moments bringing the product to life – and it’s nice to see it do so well in the market, helping people every day.

We’ve already sold thousands – the primary channels are my website, thekeywing.com, and Amazon, and I’m in negotiations with larger retailers across the UK.

The future and designing useful products

My dad loves it and, once everything in the UK is running smoothly, he will help to get the product to Australia. I’m really looking forward to getting him involved. My ambition is to design more innovative products that are far more attractive and practical than the majority of ‘mobility aids’ that are available now.

There are so many ugly, impractical products that scream “I’ve got a disability or impairment”, which only makes users feel worse. I want to design products that people buy because they’re useful.

This article is from our Autumn edition of Inspire magazine. Read the magazine in full.

Get the support you need

If you’d like to talk to someone about your arthritis and how it’s making feel, please don’t suffer in silence. Talking can really help.

You can call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm. We also run local support groups and services for people of all ages. Find your nearest one.