Monday, December 22

What a supid product.....

Several years back I was asked to create a top for a soda can. Needless to say it was not the high point of my inventing career, but it did start my wheels turning. Not about how to create it, but rather why in my entire life I had never seen a person using this product I was sure had already been invented.

A little research and there it was, no less than nine versions of a reusable cap for the top of your soda can. So now I had a mystery to solve. I didn’t know anyone who owned one, I had never seen one being used, and for a product that had been on the market over 30 years that was almost a statistical improbability.

The answer came in a phenomena we call "first purchase". First purchase happens in retail products where the consumer purchases the product once, but never again.

The Can Cap example shows us very clearly how and why this happens.

Each consumer product lives on what I call the Benefit/Detriment scale. Think of it like a see-saw of sorts where you pile things on both sides. First on the detriment side is cost – after all, the consumer has to purchase the product so that will always be the first detriment. We start to balance this out with benefits of the solution the product offers. The name of the product design game is to keep the benefits of the product far higher than the detriments. But that’s not the entire story. The Benefit/Detriment scale often operates within a frame of reference. This frame of reference is called a product use cycle.

Let’s use this simple retail product as an example of how this works.

As you can see from this image the can caps on the market are functional, however they use a manufacturing process called injection molding. While this manufacturing process gives you a very accurate part, it requires expensive tooling that has to eventually be paid for by the consumer.

Consequently, these caps range in price from about $3 to $5 dollars a pack. This price point by design makes them reusable since a consumer does not normally view a product in that range as disposable. This means the product use cycle will repeat itself each time the consumer uses the product.

When you first look at the benefit/detriment scale of the Can Cap, you can see it does exactly what the manufacturer said it would. But when you take a closer look at the entire retail equation, within the context of the use cycle, you find that the benefit/detriment scale is actually shifted far to one side. Let’s look at this example.

It’s Saturday morning and you're taking little Johnny to a soccer game. You grab a coke from the fridge and a can cap from the kitchen drawer. Pop it on, and immediately it starts giving you benefit back for that detriment you suffered in the purchase - exactly as the manufacturer and the inventor said it would.

Fast forward, and its ½ way through the game, you’re done with your coke and you remove the reusable can cap and throw away the empty can.

At that very moment the product starts causing you detriment and the scale starts to tip back. You now have to get this sticky piece of plastic into your pocket for the rest of the game, back to the mini-van, drive it home, take it out of your pocket and wash it off before putting it into the dishwasher, run the dishes, take it from the dishwasher and place it back in the drawer to complete the use cycle – all the while adding nothing but detriment to the scale since the point you took that last sip of coke.

By this time the scale has significantly shifted with far more detriment than the benefit the product offered you back in the store. In fact the product caused you more work than it saved you. This is why you never purchased it again (first sale) and why next Saturday you will likely take your chances without it.

So now we see where the problem is – and as an inventor I have to fix it. In this case the answer was to create a disposable Twist Cap version that fixes the retail equation by making sure the cap and the can end their use cycle at the same time. 

As a disposable piece costing about 20 cents, the Twist Cap has no moving parts (simply rotate to close) and accomplishes the closing mechanism by taking advantage of the natural geometry of the can itself. Simply twist the hole to one side or the other of the can opening and it’s closed. This allows us to take advantage of a much cheaper manufacturing process called vacuum forming.

In the end it wasn’t about the product as a concept being bad, but rather a case of fixing the retail equation by understanding the use cycle, an applying the fixes needed to tip the benefit/detriment scales in favor of the consumer.


  1. Anonymous11:45 AM

    More useless crap to pollute the environment. Bravo.

  2. Anonymous4:31 AM

    I agree with you're deduction but I also note that I still have not seen for sale the finished item you created!