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issue: January 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
A New Generation of Design

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By Lisa Bonnema, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

I’ve heard many in the industry complain in recent years that the next-generation of appliance designers are “lazy,” “unmotivated,” and “egocentric.” I beg to differ.

Lisa Bonnema, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

That is, if the next generation is anything like the design students I met at a recent Electrolux design competition.

The assignment: to create innovative appliances for the year 2015 based on consumer needs. The outcome: some pretty inventive—not to mention high-tech—appliances that have more insight than many of the products I’ve seen on the market.

Students from nine schools across the globe participated in the competition, which was the brainchild of Electrolux. The company’s intent was to get input from a new breed of designers that wouldn’t have the constraints of tradition, money, or other market realities. They were to do what every designer dreams of—simply innovate. Frankly, I think you’ll be surprised—and humbled—by the creations of these early 20-somethings.

The first students I met were from the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden. Titled “FOOZOO,” their appliance was a combination storage, refrigeration unit focusing on the trend—and need—for healthier lifestyles. The round unit was designed to store fruits and vegetables at counter-level, putting healthy food in front of the consumer’s face. “People want a healthier lifestyle,” Karl Forsberg, one of the Swedish students, told me. “Life is hectic, and fruits and vegetables often get ruined because you forget about them,” he continued. How true, I thought, remembering the many bags of salad I’ve tossed after forgetting they were sitting in the fresh food drawer located at the very bottom of my refrigerator. I get it.

And there’s some creative use of technology in there too. Based on the Peltier cooling principal, the refrigerator is divided into three removable bowl compartments that adjust temperature and humidity according to fruit and vegetable type. It can also increase or decrease the pace at which the fruit and vegetables ripen using ethylene, a natural ripening gas. A small humidifier uses ultrasound to provide a cool mist and control the humidity within the compartments. The small appliance also has a red indicator light to tell the user when the fruits and vegetables are starting to spoil. And that wasn’t even one of the winning concepts.

The next appliance I saw won third place. Designed by George Walker from Central Saint Martin College in the UK, the appliance, called “2015,” is a multi-use wood table that functions as a cooktop, food preparation surface, eating area, and desk. During his research, George found that most people feel disconnected from white goods. A cooker, in particular, tends to be isolated because it faces the wall and, as a result, so does the cook. The concept was to reconfigure the cooker so that people can gather around it and talk during food preparation, making it more of a social piece, like furniture.

The only way to do that, of course, was to use induction cooking, which keeps the appliance surface cool. A series of electronic grids are inset on the table’s wooden top, allowing for the use of induction tablets, food mixers, or even a laptop. The creativity doesn’t stop there. A hydroponic extraction unit, which is suspended over the table, sucks up cooking vapors and grease through its base by an extractor fan, which sends the vapors to a self-maintaining filter. The filter contains micro-organisms engineered to feed on the particulates in the vapor, digesting them into a form that plants can use as nutrients.

These nutrients, combined with the vapor from the cooking steam, feed the plants. What’s the advantage? Users can actually grow plants or, better yet, herbs to use during cooking, creating a mini ecosystem right in the kitchen. The plants, along with the wooden surface, also bring outdoor elements inside, keeping the user in touch with the environment, something no one has time for anymore.

And the winner? “Rockpool,” a waterless dishwasher designed by three bright students from Australia. The appliance has two independently operating wash chambers that are integrated into the kitchen counter so that loading and unloading takes place where other tasks are completed. Carbon dioxide is used in a closed-loop operation to clean the dishes, saving water, energy, and detergent.

The interface? Rocks. Yes, rocks. Because the students felt touch screens and buttons “complicated things,” they decided to use what they thought was both unique and intuitive. The user simply removes a rock from the top of the unit or the “pool,” which automatically opens like a screen. The loading rack is automatically lifted to the work surface level. Once the dishes are loaded, the user replaces the rock, which lowers the rack and slides the “rock pool” back into place. The user then dictates whether to “wash” or “hold” by choosing one side of the rock and placing it face up on the unit.

When the wash cycle is initiated, CO2 is pumped in from a storage cylinder. Set temperatures and pressures are applied that enable the CO2 to lift away grease and oil from the dishes. After 12 min, the CO2 is evacuated and waste is separated and diverted to a waste management system.

Impressed? Well, let’s do a quick reality check: the unit costs $400,000 to make. Yes, reality stinks. But remember the goal here wasn’t to stress over cost. It was to think big—no matter what the cost. And nothing could have made Electrolux happier than to see something like “Rockpool” come out of its Design Lab competition. “The key is changing the mindset in what has traditionally been a metal-bashing industry,” says Sean Carney, Electrolux’s group director of Design and Brand Strategy. “It’s not about making the lives of engineers and product engineers easier. That won’t sell.”

That reasoning is pushing Electrolux’s latest strategy—to use consumer insight as an innovation driver. As one of the Swedish design students noted, the goal should be to find the consumer’s “hidden wish.” I agree.

As you’ll read in this issue, many appliance makers plan to attack rising material costs with innovative products. While that excites me, I am a little skeptical of what “innovative” will turn out to be. Will it just be tinkering with a motor to gain a little energy efficiency or maybe adding a never-been-used-before color to a touch-screen control? Or will it be something that will answer a “hidden” consumer need and give that “wow” affect that seems to attract today’s consumer—something that will really make up for those increases? I hope it’s the latter.

Go ahead, be creative. Think like you’re an aspiring design student in your 20s, or hire someone that can. Market realities aren’t getting any better. I say innovate.


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