This is Jonathan, but most people know me as Jon. The idea for Hakkei came to me after I experienced a series of injuries while working as a software developer. For the longest time, I felt increasing discomfort in my hands and wrists that would occasionally make it difficult to perform daily tasks on my computer. I didn't pay much attention to it at the time and would continue pushing through it- and eventually, it caught up to me and made everyday tasks difficult. Needless to say, it was not my best judgement call.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) are conditions that develop over prolonged periods of time and make everyday tasks more difficult. Getting treatment for these injuries can be tricky because it’s hard to determine the exact habits that caused it. After being diagnosed with CTS, it wasn't long before I learned it was a shared condition among my friends and colleagues. Many of them also had their first onset of carpal tunnel at a relatively young age, despite being otherwise healthy individuals.
The whole idea sparked from wanting my own version of a split, wireless keyboard. The product that I was looking for wasn't offered in the market, so my only option was to build it myself. Over a span of eight or nine months, I had periodic discussions with ergonomic scientists to find ways to improve the ergonomics of my design concept. This lead to the research of the roots of my CTS, which was likely caused by a combination of heavy keyboard use, climbing, and other strenuous activities involving my hands.
Every idea begins with a problem to solve, and for Hakkei, our mission began from the realization that the general perception of ergonomics are outdated. Having observed how ergonomics is closely tied to the workplace, the misconception that work-related injuries only come later in life became evident. Our devices have become an important part of our lives, especially for the younger generation.
Consider this: More than half of children under the age of 11 now own smart phones. Americans spend more than 13 hours on screens per day since COVID-19, and half of those who work with computers suffer from RSI or CTS symptoms of varying degrees. I saw the opportunity with how keyboards play an important role in shaping our well-being in our everyday lives. The turning point for the keyboard project began when I started sharing it with various online communities. I received an overwhelming response from people around the globe, which led me to start Hakkei Inc.
After a year of design iterations, we found our footing in three key problems areas:
The keyboard industry is dominated by large corporations that leverage the increasing awareness of health consciousness by using "ergonomic" as a marketing buzzword. The majority of these keyboards sold provide little to no support for the user's hands and wrists. By considering the physical and mental impact of a keyboard, we enable users to enjoy a safer, injury-free, and more comfortable way of interacting with their devices.
Ergonomics is about designing for people. Even with the advent of personal mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets, keyboards remain integral to human-computer interaction. Consumers are often left compromising between aesthetics, comfort, and utility features when selecting a keyboard. Should people prioritize health over aesthetics? Probably, but emotion plays a large role in how we make decisions. And because beauty is an emotional one, we choose between one product and another based on emotion.
By taking an empathetic approach in our design, more people can enjoy improved efficiency and comfort by default, and that can have a positive impact on our safety and productivity.
For many, the prevailing reason for avoiding an alternative keyboard design is the daunting medical-device like appearance, as well as the need to overcome a steep learning curve in order to use these products. Design should take into account the perceived value from a user's time investment to learn it, and without this consideration, the benefits may never be realized.
Taking the lessons learned from user experience design that we use for web applications- It's important for keyboards to provide the same usability and findability so users can pick it up and feel confident about how to use it. We get the best out of ourselves and our work when we love the tools we use.
It has been so rewarding to see this project come to life with your support, and I couldn't be more thankful for it. I thought I'd end this post with some information about our other super special project.
At Hakkei, our philosophy focuses on accessibility, utility, and efficiency. It's part of our brand marketing. But there’s a somewhat shorter and simpler way to express exactly what it is that we value: Your time. And not just your time, but the time of everyone your work with, play with, and depend upon. We're developing a configurator app that aims to empower users to better leverage their time by leveraging keyboard macros and shortcuts. It's going to be really cool, stay tuned!
Jonathan Lau, Hakkei Inc. Founder & Product Engineer