The saucepan in your kitchen has, essentially, changed little since the days of the Romans.
The basic pot – with a hand to stop burns and scalds and a lid to help cook food faster – has been a kitchen staple throughout civilisation. And despite the huge advances in technology over recent time, we are using an implement our ancestors would still recognise.
Cookware’s last great revolution came back in 1938, when the non-stick coating Teflon was invented by accident by a US scientist. Since then, the saucepan has got thinner and better at conducting heat evenly, but it can still be unwieldy and difficult to strain, can burn food and the user – and must be constantly checked to make sure it doesn’t boil over.
All of which made London-based design firm Precipice think the saucepan was ripe for redesign in our Imagineering series. Headed by chief design officer Miles Hawley, the team – brand designer Ray Betts, project manager Lee Twycross, design manager Sarah Clark and intern Rob Simpson – decided to update the humble cooking pot for a far more technological age.
Their concept for a cookware for the 21st Century is known as Simr, and uses smart technology to alleviate some of the drawbacks of a simple saucepan. A “smart handle” (detachable if you need to put the pot in a dishwasher) has several modes to help prevent burning and boil-overs. The saucepan’s smart modes would include a timer, a weighing mechanism, a thermometer, and an alarm for when the pot boils over.
The pan is made of two layers, with the outside one angled to increase contact with a hotplate, and the internal one curved to make it easier to clean. Heat exchangers – like those currently used in camping stoves – separate the layers, heating the sides of the pan more evenly. The lid tilts, allowing food to be strained without having to transfer it to another container. The modular design, with the handle being interchangeable with different sized pans, would also help keep production costs down.
Here, Hawley tells BBC Future about the challenges of bringing one of our kitchen staples into a new age.
Why update the saucepan?
The saucepan is a fundamental tool used for a fundamental task. Every household has them, they are used on a daily basis and yet the design has hardly altered in hundreds if not thousands of years. Form, function, materials, ergonomics, storage and visual language have remained fundamentally unchanged since the Romans cast bronze and earthenware cooking vessels.
What are the flaws in the original design?
There are many design features that can be improved. Straining boiling water requires an additional accessory and can be fundamentally dangerous and difficult to control using a standard saucepan lid. There’s no timing facility, and the cooker hob often requires multiple timings for numerous pans and processes.
Utensil storage and management is rarely accommodated. There are poor ergonomics, as lids and handles are commonly bulky, heavy, and difficult to grip.
There is little innovation in visual language, and no status information or metric feedback; is it about to boil over? Boil dry? What’s the temperature? What do the contents weigh? When will the food be ready?
Also, the pans can be difficult and time-consuming to clean, and heating is often uneven, requiring continuous monitoring and management.
How did you address them?
Using our toolkit of advanced analytics we looked at consumer expectations, desires and concerns, together with discursive analysis (the conversations in culture), semiotic codes (clusters of visual meaning) and cultural/visual trends to identify key design opportunities. Our creative team investigated these opportunity areas, to focus and identify potential product solutions. Visual language, CMF (colours materials and finishes), human factors, and new technologies were incorporated to develop our vision of a 21st century intelligent saucepan – Simr.