I was leafing through the January 1924 edition of Popular Mechanics the other day when I came across the following fascinating piece:
Ahh ... many's the day I fished just such a tin out of my duffel bag while sitting at the end of a chilly railway platform in autumn waiting for the Euston to Manchester Picadilly to come through (even though, more often than not, it was pulled by nothing more exciting than a humble 4-6-0 Stanier.) And of course I am only too familiar with the dilemma depicted in the above article - though I have to admit, I rarely had an ice-pick to hand and, most times, had to content myself with leaving the tin half-open and teasing out the sardines with a lolly stick.
But despite the fact that this particular style of sardine tin has long since been superseded by the modern ring-pull, the underlying design problem remains unresolved. The ring-pull may make the task of opening the tin refreshingly easy but there is a terrible sting in the tail: as the lid comes free of the container, it springs back, flicking tomato and olive oil down the front of the cool shirt you've just changed into.
So the sardine tin remains a design problem whose solution momentarily eludes us. It's one of those situations that no-one can be sufficiently arsed to worry about too much.
And there's another, equally fascinating genre: where designers have been encouraged to allow their imaginations to run unchecked - frequently with bizarre and intriguing results.
Join me over the coming weeks (and months) while I visit further examples of both scenarios - starting with the Dyson DC21 vacuum cleaner.
But don't hold your breath.