There has been a long history of less-than-successful kitchen gadgets, from the automatic potato peeler to Internet-enabled refrigerators. Many of these design concepts fail because they either miss the mark or because they assume people will adapt their behaviors to accommodate the concepts, rather than the other way around.
Most activities taking place in kitchens are neither cooking nor eating.
At last month’s Housewares show,
my colleagues at Bresslergroup and I presented what we call near-term
kitchen concepts. These are product designs and adaptations driven by trend analysis and consumer research, and considered in the context of real-world behaviors. We examined the entire work flow of the kitchen environment, illustrated below, rather than a particular sub-task. Despite its reputation, the majority of activities taking place within the kitchen are neither cooking or eating:
There is room for improving the kitchen experience, but effective design research requires going beyond just the identification of opportunities. It is essential to understand how various trends interrelate and can be addressed as integrated product solutions. Consider two of the trends that were identified and explored in our research process: sustainability (making better use of resources) and connectivity (sharing information among peers). Neither of these should be a surprise to anyone following design and culture, but they tend to be treated as separate problem with separate solutions.
We bridged these two issues with the MySpice app concept. Like other social networks, it shares information among friends and family with a common interest: cooking. We also devised it to function as system where an information exchange could improve the utilization of a perishable physical resource: the food in our kitchens.
A recipe is made possible by combining ingredients among multiple friends.
Grocery store purchases are automatically integrated into the application at point of purchase by transmitting the data from existing check-out systems. This provides for several currently unmet needs—it allows people to track what items they have in their own kitchen and prioritizes food visibility based on expected expiration dates, allowing us to more effectively use what was bought. Users can also choose which items are shareable within their network, bringing value to multiple people. In the scenario depicted below, a recipe is made possible by combining ingredients among multiple friends within the MySpice network, which also facilitates the communication to share those ingredients. We're assuming this would work best in urban areas where people live, work, and shop in close proximity—the updated version of borrowing a needed ingredient from the neighbor. The results: better use of food, less waste, and perhaps, less people eating alone.
Sustainability can also be paired with other trends that we documented, including modularity—the ability to scale kitchen appliances to the needs of the end-user, rather than a once-size-fits-all solution. Modular appliance design can improve product energy-efficiency. And modularity provides additional benefits. As illustrated below, the scaling of an appliance provides greater flexibility in its placement, such as dishwashers in the dining room where the dishes are actually used, and ergonomics, by placing the access point at a comfortable height for reach and visibility. Of course, this would require associated aesthetic and mechanical changes to better integrate the dishwasher into alternative areas of the home.
We might even consider the "Dish Toaster"—an on-demand single-dish quick-rinse system that keeps plates from piling up in the sink in smaller households, eliminating the need for a full-size dish-washing appliance.
A streaming video version of the Kitchen 2.0 presentation is available online
[Concept images by Ed Mitchell and Raphael Guilleminot]