Automatic Can Opening Fail – Latika Gulati



Description: Tom ka soup is arguably the most delicious soup out there. You can only imagine my excitement as I stopped by Kroger after a long day of schoolwork to grab coconut milk, mushrooms, and limes. As soon as I got home, I didn’t even bother to change before chopping vegetables and opening my cans of coconut milk. There was only one problem: my electric can opener is the most frustrating piece of technology in the face of the planet. It hangs under a cabinet in our home and has a lever that says “load/unload” and “start.” In order to use this can opener, you have to push the lever to “load/unload” with one hand while trying to get the opener exactly on the lip of the can with the other hand. Then you push the lever all the way back to “start.” As soon as I do that, a deafening grinding noise erupts from the machine and I drop the can. I try again and it doesn’t line up quite right, causing the can to fall again. I try one last time and everything lines up, but the can doesn’t actually get cut. Frustrated, I run back to Kroger to pick up a can opener that actually works.IMG_2148

Design process: AEIOU

Activities: Opening a can
Environments: Usually done in a kitchen, but could also be done in a garage (ex. can of oil)
Interactions: A person will interact with the can opener if they require a can in their cooking. Depending on where it is placed, it may be inconvenient for multiple people to be cooking in that area.
Objects: Can and can opener
Users: Any home or professional chef!

Proposed interventions:

  • Put a sign on the wall saying that users tend to have trouble using this equipment. Since this is your house, it isn’t likely that you’ll put up a sign. If it were used in a commercial application, putting up a sign might just remind the chefs of their frustration or make them not trust the product.


  • Change the opening portion of the machine to resemble a hand-held can opener. The lever can swing the bottom open and you have to push it back up once it is lined up with the cutting mechanism. This will make it intuitive for the users because most people know how to use a hand-held can opener but it means the company has to redesign the product.


  • Use a hand-held can opener. This would require you to own/buy one and know how to use it. This isn’t profitable for the company or for the user.


  • Redesign the can opener entirely so that the cutting part is hidden from the user. Allow the user to push the can up from the bottom and the machine will calibrate and adjust based on the size of the can and its position. This is more high-tech than the other options and will cause the company to redo their product and for the user to have to buy a new (and potentially more expensive) opener.



The best option here is to redesign the can opener such that it mimics a hand-held one because it will be relatively inexpensive for the company and the process is already familiar to the user.


Designing for myself was a easier than designing for the average user because I had an experience of exactly what I wanted when confronted with the misbehaving can opener. Coming up with additional solutions was a little tricker since I only had one in mind to begin with. I would have liked having a team around to brainstorm with since they could point out any flaws in my thinking. On the other hand, I had a larger advantage to coming up with solutions since I was a user.


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