When designers at Electrolux decided to
develop the brand’s first bagless upright vacuum, they knew there was
only one way to do it right: Ask the consumer. Three years and several
iterations later, the company introduced Versatility, a vacuum that was
literally designed for the user—from the ground up.
Starting with the User
Sandlin, general manger, Consumer Experience and Innovation, Electrolux
Home Care Products North America, says the driving force behind the new
vacuum was an integrated wand system, a concept that resulted from
consumer ethnographies. These studies revealed one very obvious
need—that consumers were having a hard time vacuuming areas above the
floor, such as crown molding and ceiling fans.
saw that typical products were really cumbersome to deal with for this
above-floor cleaning,” Sandlin tells APPLIANCE. “Today, typically in an
upright vacuum, you have a series of wands. You pull the hose off. Then
you have to take the wands out of the holder. You have to put those two
together, and then you have a dusting brush some place else on the
unit. It was a long process to watch what the consumer had to go
The Electrolux team then came up
with the idea of an integrated telescopic wand. The wand extends up to
14 feet and has an onboard dusting brush so that users can reach high
areas. A soft plastic piece on the end of the wand also allows users to
get into the nooks and crannies along the floor. “We saw that people
were using the same wand systems to get along the baseboards,” Sandlin
While the concept of the wand system was
the impetus of the project, Sandlin says it took a lot of trial and
error—and more consumer feedback—to get to the final design. “This went
through a lot of iterations after the concept came about,” he confirms.
“We actually did a lot of focus groups. We knew we wanted a wand
system, but then, how did we want it on the product? How did we want to
communicate it at retail?”
Safe Design Choices
company’s first round of models used several different buckles and
latches to attach the wand to the vacuum base. Focus groups revealed
that none of these were successful in attracting the consumer.
of the feedback we got back was that certain mechanisms to hold the
handle to the main unit looked weak, or they didn’t understand that the
handle came out,” Sandlin explains. “So other designers and I sat down
and said, ‘We have an issue. We’ve got to communicate to the consumer
that it is secure, it is [of high] quality, it stays attached, and when
they actually look at it on the shelf, they are drawn to it.’”
team brainstormed internally as well as with retailers and came up with
the concept of security. The “aha” moment, Sandlin says, was when his
design boss flew in from Sweden and they discussed how airplane seat
belts make people feel secure because they hold you in. “We thought to
develop a buckle design so that it looks like the wand is really
attached, and then when the consumer touches the buckle, something
According to Sandlin, the buckle
solved several design issues. First, it addressed the confusion that
users were having with how to use the integrated wand. Because the
vacuum doesn’t have a lot of the external pieces consumers are used to
seeing on an upright, it was almost intimidating to use; however, the
buckle was a familiar mechanism the consumer could easily relate to.
“The buckle gave the consumer something to touch, and when they touch
it, they understand the handle comes off.”
says that clearly communicating how the product worked was especially
important at the point of purchase. “If consumers don’t get what your
intention is on the shelf, you have a major problem,” Sandlin notes.
“This is even important from a graphic design and color standpoint. We
actually chrome-plated the buckle so it is the brightest part on the
The buckle also addressed the
durability issues that users were having with earlier latching designs.
Electrolux felt that because people associate seat belts with safety,
users would perceive a stronger, more durable handle. To reinforce this
message, Sandlin says a substantial amount of effort was put into the
mechanical engineering of the wand system. “There is a lot of
engagement from the plastic parts so that when you are holding this, it
holds together and is not flimsy or moving for the consumer,” he says.
there are 2.5 inches of solid engagement between the main housing of
the vacuum cleaner and the upper part of the handle structure. While
the buckle keeps the wand in place from top to bottom, a rib structure
keeps it in place from back to front. The wand is housed at the bottom
as well. For structural durability, designers chose an ABS material for
the handle and aluminum for the wand.
major design focus was the grip of the handle. “We went through several
different types of grips; it’s really understanding how people use the
product,” Sandlin says. Using internal focus groups, the design team
found that the vacuum actually needed two grips—one for pushing the
product during main vacuuming, and one for lifting the wand overhead
for above-floor cleaning.
“When you are
pushing the vacuum, your hand is more on the top side,” Sandlin says.
“And then when you pull the wand out and keep your hand on that same
grip, you are really forced to use two hands.” To make the task less
cumbersome for consumers, the design team added another grip on the top
surface. Designers also used a soft spray for both grips—as opposed to
rubber or a plastic on plastic design—to keep the handle as lightweight
Based on extensive consumer research, Electrolux developed a quick-release wand that telescopes out for easy above-floor vacuuming. A buckle latching system keeps the wand secured to the vacuum base.
Integrating the Brand
the integrated wand system was developed to answer a consumer need, it
was also an important part of the vacuum’s brand language. With the
company’s Scandinavian history, the Electrolux brand is built around
clean, intuitive, integrated design. “Our designs are simple. There’s
some energy to it, but they are pure in their forms,” Sandlin says.
keep the design intuitive, the wand is based on the hierarchy of how
consumers would use it. Once the wand is pulled out, there are three
interfaces. The first button can actually take the long wand off if the
user only wanted to vacuum with a short wand. The team wanted to give
the consumer this option, but most of their research revealed the
consumer used the long wand enough to keep it as the default design.
second button allows the user to telescope the wand. The third button
is found further down the wand and can be used to move the dusting
brush to the end of the wand. “It was logical in the design that all
the buttons were the same,” Sandlin notes. “There is some contrast in
color, so they understand this is where I push.”
it was possible from a design standpoint, the Electrolux team decided
not to integrate the crevice tool based on ethnography findings. “The
nozzle has a plastic tip so users can go around crevices, but if they
really want to get into a small crevice, which isn’t as often, that’s
actually stored very nicely on the back of the unit.” A “power-in-hand”
turbo tool used to clean stairs is also separate, but is designed to
magnetically lock into place in an integrated “pocket” on the front of
To keep the visual design
streamlined, the designers played with shapes, colors, and electronics.
“We do a lot of breaking of the plastic parts,” Sandlin says. “If you
see a side shot, you see kind of a gray side panel. From an aesthetic
side, we did that to make the product look a certain way, visually a
little thinner. We added a texture to that. It’s a nice little
aesthetic detail to break the really high gloss.”
vacuum also has only two noticeable indicators—carpet and floor. The
other indicators—which alert the consumer if the brush roll or filter
require maintenance—are housed in an in-molded “dummy” panel. Sandlin
says that while this approach kept the design clean, more importantly,
it focused on the user. “The consumer only needs to know that something
is wrong with the brush roll when something happens,” he says.
Designed to float smoothly along floor surfaces, the Versatility does not require a carpet-height adjuster.
the user at the forefront of each design detail is critical, according
to Sandlin. And while Versatility certainly offers more features than
the wand system (see sidebar, “High-Powered Details” on page 26),
Sandlin says this part of the vacuum was a major design element that
took months to perfect—and with good reason. “We really focused on this
upper area for quite a long time to make sure we got it right because
it’s so important to the core of the product,” he explains. “That’s
what was really important—identifying the needs for the consumer and
then coming up with a product that really does deliver.”
admits that as a designer, there is always that urge to put more on a
product. However, he says it is important not to stray from the
original design intention. “Part of the development is focusing on what
you want to do and not making compromises on those areas,” he says.
“There are different needs out there. There are needs around air
quality; somebody else has a pet. Through the development, you have to
stay true to that and solve the problem.”
Cuisinart (Stamford, CT, U.S.; www.cuisinart.com) has literally flipped traditional design on its head with its first vertical rotisserie, the CVR-1000. The appliance was developed for healthier cooking, as the rotisserie’s design drains unwanted fat into a trip tray. The oven also offers several cooking functions, including a skewer set for kebabs, a roasting rack for beef or lamb, a poultry tower for chicken, and a multipurpose basket for salmon and shrimp. Other features include five preset oven temperature settings, programmable touchpad controls, an LCD readout, and 3-hour countdown timer with automatic shutoff.