Dear Customer,

When looking at an array of products, it’s natural to focus your attention on the extremes of a product range. It’s easy to justify buying a longer hose, for example, using the rationale that a longer hose will do anything the shorter hose will do and more, or to convince yourself that a higher-priced item must be more durable, or of a higher quality. The danger with this approach is that you can be so focused on choosing a product with the greatest utility that you forget to consider how you intend to use it. We try to help you avoid that trap by giving you the information necessary to evaluate utility using your own experience as a filter, or using ours as an example. The problem there is, we don’t all have the same experience, or work under the same conditions.

Take the long-handled trowel on the back cover as an example. It’s an odd length, falling in size between a normal trowel and a small floral spade, and would be awkward to use in place of either of those tools. When I notice an odd-sized (or shaped) tool in a catalog, I find visualizing how I would hold it helps to understand its utility.

In this case, unlike the user in the photo, I would use it with the face of the blade towards my body, in combination with a pulling motion much as one would a canoe paddle. I have an urban garden and work most often from a kneeling position and need the reach a longer trowel offers. Additionally, a two-handed grip would give me better control, and would enable a more balanced application of force.

Now my personal assessment of utility is based purely on miming the use of the tool, waving my hands in the air, and looking somewhat like a synchronized swimmer out of water. While it can be an effective evaluation technique, it’s not one I’d recommend if you have a habit of reading catalogs while taking public transit, or even while eating lunch at your desk, though it will almost guarantee that no one will bother you as you read...


Robin C. Lee