LG Electronics and ECCO Designs created a refrigerator for the American market with more space on the door and a bottom tilt-out freezer.
Since the internal design and development at LG is based on the Korean market, the company needed to conduct research to discover what consumers in the U.S. wanted and needed in their refrigerators.
Designing appliances has a lot of small cultural and habitual details, says Anthony Ogg, senior designer for LG. It needs to be an American design for an American market. For example, Mr. Ogg says, in America there is a trend toward stainless steel, professional style appliances, while in Korea there is a trend toward new technology such as ionic air-purifiers.
LG selected ECCO to help in the design process since it had worked with the company on several projects during the past 10 years.
ECCO used its research and ideas to create a successful product with LG. We are almost like archeologists or anthropologists that read evidence and artifacts to see how people are using objects in their lives, explains Eric Chan, president of ECCO Design. As designers, we see this approach as a powerful and inspiring tool. As we read people, we find real-time examples. We see how they are enjoying and living their lives.
LG stipulated a bottom-mount freezer configuration and provided ECCO with design specifications such as cubic feet, capacity and the compressors to be used, as well as production requirements.
Chan explains there is an established method that companies have to efficiently manufacture products, such as a particular way to bend the metal frame of the product. The company takes this information into account when it begins designing the product; however, it does not limit the product by any particular stipulations. ECCO used this information to see how far it could push the envelope without hindering efficiency.
It was up to ECCO to figure out what the American market wanted. Reaching the consumer on an emotional level was a goal the company wanted to achieve when conducting research. The company conducted online interviews, visited homes first hand and looked at the retail landscape to see how competitors were doing. It also sent out hundreds of disposable cameras and had consumers take pictures to document how they use their refrigerators. Each shot would document the time and date and include a note such as just after shopping, before cooking or just after cleaning.
I think everybody can come up with similar technology, the manufacturing costs, materials, and distribution, says Chan. We need insight into the consumers mind, and that is where we spend a lot of time focusing our understanding.
The research process took roughly 4 months and allowed ECCO to discover the problems or issues that people have with their refrigerators first hand. For example, ECCO says the door is the most accessible space and most frequently used area for a lot of small jars, eggs and butter. There is a lot of activity with limited volume.
After the company gathered other information, video and photographs, it analyzed the data and began to investigate new and innovative ways to design the refrigerator. We needed to make it more accessible and to put more volume in the door, with compartments on the inside to make it easily accessible, as well as provide removable, extendable trays and collapsible trays, says Chan.
ECCO Designs used a variety of methods to create the final design ranging from computer designs to foam mock-ups.
The company moved into the design phase armed with new ideas. It created mock-ups and invited consumers to come in and perform body storms, which the company describes as a brainstorm using body actions.
The company observed how a user might get a gallon of milk, for example. Chan explains, This process helps us develop better ideas and mock-up another product quickly.
Chan notes that teamwork was of extreme importance. ECCO would create mock-ups and concept sketches, then LG would make full-size prototypes. The two companies would work together to see how the design direction performed.
Together the companies created the Panorama three-door refrigerator line, which offered a bottom-mount freezer with French doors. LG knew it wanted to have a bottom-mount freezer because it sees it as the next trend on refrigerators. The top-mount can be inconvenient for customers, says KJ Kim, manager of Refrigerator Product Planning for North America. The refrigeration portion is the most useable section. The bottom-mount design is the most beneficial because it puts the refrigeration compartment at eye level.
The refrigerators offer features such as an external water dispenser, slide out split shelves, a wine rack, and adjustable gallon-size shelves in each door. The refrigerator offers a multi-airflow system in which all of the shelves in the refrigerator are equipped with venting ducts for cavity cooling and keeping food fresh. Located in the front by the fresh food section of the refrigerator, the digital temperature controls can be locked for unwanted changes. There is also a tilting feature on the freezer door that opens 6 to 7 inches, allowing consumers to get out smaller items like ice cream and not loose all the cold air by opening the entire drawer.
There were challenges that required the companies to work as a team. The modular system on the door, which allows consumers to reposition the bins, almost brought an end to the product. We wanted to get a really nice fit on the door bins snapping in and sliding, Ogg says. However, shrinkage during molding and vacuum forming the bins made it hard to achieve consistency. The project was on hold for 2 to 3 weeks until engineers could find just the right shrink rate.
A similar issue arose with the tilting freezer door. Engineers struggled with combining the tilt and slide-out features. It took engineers 2 months to figure out how to make the hinge design actually work, but the result is an innovative feature that can benefit those who are in wheelchairs. Because the tilt gradually breaks the seal as it opens, the freezer is easier to open.
We wanted to bring up the level and appeal to retailers like Sears and Best Buy, who now offer LG as a premium brand, says Chan. We wanted to distinguish our product and have meaningful usefulness in everybodys home.