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Can opener

By William K. Wenger

(Typical can opener design) One's experience with common everyday objects creates expectations about how other similar devices work. There are dozens of can openers on the market and most work in exactly the same way: they cut around the inside rim of the lid leaving the rim intact with the can and a sharp-edged lid upon opening.

(Unusual can opener design) Another less common type of can opener cuts sideways into the can just below the rim. When a can is opened, the sharp edge is on the can itself while the rim remains with the lid. One advantage of the the latter is that the lid doesn't fall into the contents of the can. On the other hand, because the lid doesn't fall within the can, it isn't as convenient for draining away any undesired liquid.

The two can openers shown here are attractively designed and look very similar. The black opener removes the lid in the more common manner and the white opener removes the lid by cutting below the rim. When the latter can opener is given to someone to use, they invariably attempt to use the can opener by cutting down rather than sideways. In fact people never think to try to use the white opener as intended. They usually give up or make a total mess of the lid in making futile attempts to cut downward. The experience about how one opens a can is rather ingrained for cutting down rather than sideways.

Design suggestion

If a device uses a different operating principle, design the device such that it won't be confused with devices that operate under different operating principles. These can openers look too much alike for two devices that function very differently. It is not enough to package the side-cutting opener with instructions. Once opened and tossed into the kitchen drawer, it looks too much like any other can opener. The design of the side-cutting opener should communicate how it is used and should not be confused with the traditional down-cutting opener.

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