Design of (Almost) Everyday Things: Impact Drill

Hopefully Don will forgive me for the creative licence I’ve taken in bastardising on the title of his book, but it seemed quite fitting given my recent experience with my Ryobi impact drill.

Basically what we’re talking about here is a standard, off-the-shelf drill with two operating modes: Drill mode and Impact/Hammer mode

Without getting into the detail of why you need two drill modes, the point remains that the drill itself contains a switch to flick between both modes.

(click the image to see a bigger version)

So the question is – which way do you need to flick the switch in order to engage hammer mode? Do you flick it right so that you can see the Hammer glyph, or do you flick it to the left so that the Hammer is covered up?

I asked a number of people this question, and interestingly NOBODY got the answer right. If you answered “flick it to the left so that the Hammer is covered up” then you got it WRONG. The switch actually needs to be flicked to the right. I cant explain why it was done like this and it seems completely counter-intuitive to me. There are much better ways of representing this modal change – the most obvious being if the glyphs themselves were shown on the side of the switch rather than at the bottom, and they swapped positions. This means the switch is then used to “engage” a particular mode, and the ambiguity is now removed by having to physically move the switch closer to the appropriate glyph.

So in the course of typing this blog-post, I thought about giving Ryobi a chance to respond and sent them a brief description of the problem and my proposed solution. Sadly I haven’t heard back from them. Shows how much they care about customer feedback in general. Ryobi fail.


  1. Hey, There shouldn’t be a middle mode.
    It’s only got hammer or drill mode. So when you switch it to the left, then you can see the drill, so it’s in Drill mode. And when you switch it to the right, you see the hammer.. so it’s MC hammer time.
    You shouldn’t be able to select the middle… (it’s like a checkbox, on or off)

    1. You’re right – there is no middle mode, i only jimmied the switch into that position for the photo.

      What’s bugs me here is the confusion the glyph creates. Does it indicate the mode is active, or does it indicate that the other mode is active (ie: the mode for the glyph you CANT see).

      out of interest – did you pick the correct one?

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