Projekt Linse & Projekt Queller: Product design for a leading home appliance manufacturer

Imagine kitchen appliances that make you a better cook

A leading appliance manufacturer invited Modern Human to collaborate on a new line of smart kitchen appliances.

New technology means the devices in our homes and in our hands are becoming smarter. The profusion of small and cheap sensors combined with connectivity, distributed computing, artificial intelligence and new human-device interaction paradigms means that the ‘internet of things’ is finally starting to become a reality. Against this backdrop, a leading home appliance manufacturer invited Modern Human to work with their product design team on two new appliance ranges: the first, a high-end range of kitchen and laundry appliances (Projekt Queller); the second, an entry-level range for people moving into their first home (Projekt Linse).

Kitchen and laundry appliances, while not especially glamorous, are central to the everyday lives of most people. They are the appliances we use to cook and to clean - the basic enablers of our modern lifestyle. Before we got started, we wanted to understand the relationship between food, laundry and family life. We wanted to understand more about why people cook, how they feed their families, and the position of the kitchen in family life. We recruited consumers in 3 European countries (the UK, Italy and Germany), and asked them to keep video diaries focussing specifically on the meals they prepared and their laundry habits. Our teams followed this up with home visits, where they were able not only to probe deeper into the contents of the video diaries, but also to observe a meal time and see first hand how they were using their existing kitchen space. We resurrected the time and motion study to analyse the activity of preparing a family meal. Our research allowed us to identify the underlying and unspoken needs of a modern home, and gave us the opportunity to create products that most people had not even realised they needed.

As well as uncovering the latent needs of people at home, we also wanted to understand the latest food trends and techniques that were being used in high-end restaurants. Our client organised a visit to 5 Michelin-starred restaurants, so that we could interview the chefs and observe a service. We wanted to see what opportunities for pass-down innovation might exist within high-end Michelin-starred kitchens. We returned to the time and motion technique to analyse how a brigade works in a top kitchen.

Our observations of these very different environments gave us some interesting and surprising insights into how people cook, their attitudes to food, their challenges with laundry, and how even household chores are often seen as an expression of love. We also observed the profound effect that soaring property prices has had on the average size of a first home, and how first-time buyers have adapted to cope with these severe restrictions on space. Our research helped us to identify a number of techniques and trends that were potentially interesting as we set out to design two ranges of appliances.

Concepting on Projekt Queller moved fast. It was clear from our research that value proposition for the high-end appliances was centred around creating everyday perfection, and the way a professional kitchen brigade works, combined with how we saw home cooks preparing elaborate meals for dinner parties, gave us an idea. What if your appliances could become your own brigade, coordinating themselves to help you prepare the perfect dinner party meal? Our technologists quickly set about experimenting with sensors and connectivity. We wanted to see if it was possible for the appliances to send and receive messages, and to respond to those messages sensibly. Meanwhile, our designers began working on the interaction paradigm, experimenting with speech and gestural interfaces to create a solution that works in any kitchen.

Projekt Queller resulted in a high-end product line for family kitchens with a full set of kitchen and laundry appliances. These included:

A smart cooker hood and induction hob combination. We embedded temperature sensors in the cooker hood and linked them wirelessly to the induction hob. The cooker hood, suspended directly above the induction hob, was perfectly placed to monitor the temperature of pans on the hob. Introducing wireless control between the two appliances means that the cooker hood can automatically adjust the temperature of the induction hobs, to turn down a pan that’s about to boil over or even maintain a pan of water at a given temperature so that users can create sous-vide (essentially cooking in a water bath at a constant temperature, a Michelin Star technique difficult to recreate at home) dishes in their own kitchens. The temperature sensors and remote control capabilities we introduced also allow users to monitor their cooking from outside the kitchen.

A fan-assisted pyrolytic single and double oven that can be controlled remotely. Remote control of the Projekt Queller oven means that the owner can turn their oven on before they get home or turn it off from another room - but that is really just the beginning. Along with the remote control ability, we also created a digital service that allows the owner to choose or enter a recipe. The smart oven and hob then orchestrate the cooking of different elements of the dish with perfect timing. This means no more overcooked vegetables with the Sunday Roast (for example).

A smart fridge that helps with grocery shopping and food preparation. Our design research showed us just how hard some families work to prepare meals that the entire family can enjoy. Meal preparation has to fit in with parents returning home from work and children’s afternoon and evening activities. Managing the complexity of everyone’s schedules, not to mention their various likes, dislikes and dietary requirements, often leaves parents scratching their heads when it comes to preparing a family meal. To overcome this, we paired a smart fridge that knows what it contains with a digital service that helps with scheduling, grocery shopping and meal preparation.

The digital service uses artificial intelligence and automated decision making to combine awareness of upcoming family events and knowledge of what the fridge currently contains. From this, it can create a shopping list every week or fortnight. Planned meals, favourite recipes, special dietary requirements, likes and dislikes can be tailored individually by each member of the family and taken into account by the AI. The service then suggests a meal plan which can be customised by selected members of the family. The correct ingredients are then ordered automatically from the family’s preferred grocery store.

An interactive screen on the fridge can then be used to interact with the digital service, along with a tablet and mobile app and web interface.

Concepting on Projekt Linse took longer. It was clear that the emphasis for the project would be on space, rather than the smart technology that would be present in the high-end appliances. The trend towards smaller homes, with inevitably smaller kitchen and laundry areas, meant that our value proposition was on providing large appliance features for small spaces, and multiple features in a single appliance.

We set about creating innovative new form factors for the appliances that would fit into the kitchens that we had seen. We began investigating multifunctional appliances and experimenting with the smallest possible form factor for each appliance. Projekt Linse resulted in a full set of affordable kitchen appliances designed for kitchens in which space is at a premium. These included a portable induction hob, a mini-dishwasher with market leading water and energy efficiency, and a combined microwave and oven. Technical proof-of-concepts are being produced to prove some of the new technologies involved.

Our work on Projekt Queller and Projekt Linse kick-started the innovation process for our appliance manufacturing client. Projekt Linse and Projekt Queller were a joint effort between Modern Human and our client’s product design team. We moved our team into their studio so that their product designers could accompany us on every visit, watch every video entry in the diary studies, and work alongside us while we developed concepts and prototypes. Involving their product design team in the design research, concepting and design phases of the project meant they could take the products forward to launch from where we left off.

Our client has asked not to be named because of commercial sensitivities, but did sign-off this case study. The two product lines are now ready for manufacture and news of product launches is expected to be announced soon.