Kitchens and the Art of Evolution
Most all products have evolved, are evolving, and will continue to evolve; that’s the purpose of a product designer. Coming from an industrial design background, I’m always paying attention to the latest and greatest, whether it’s consumer electronics, cars essentially becoming smartphones on wheels, or kitchen utensils bringing fun back to the kitchen.
Now I find myself in the field of interior design, I’ve noticed the correlation between the two and how they have the perfect interplay - so much so that some product designers venture into the world of interior design, and vice versa. The advancing tech for product design has pushed interior design into new realms, while the interior design industry has pushed back with how they demand products to evolve. This push and pull have changed the way we interact with our surroundings, be it in our house or at the office.
As we know, the industrial revolution ushered in a lot of quick improvements in the way we go about our lives, and now the technological revolution is doing the same at an exponentially faster rate. We have better tools to conceptualize ideas, produce prototypes, test functionality, track metrics and study usage. This process allows more giant leaps to be made and furthers the progression of how we operate as a society.
More importantly, we have learned how to be exceptionally efficient as a species. It’s more than evident that homes have shifted from merely a place to shelter ourselves from the outside elements to a sanctuary of nurturing luxuries. When going about our lives, we pick up on how to streamline processes. Surely, you’ve had “ah ha!” moments in the middle of your routine that made you realize you could be more efficient. These are the kind of moments that product designers are trying to discover without being in the same situation.
That’s where user feedback becomes pertinent in the evolution of products and how we use them to their fullest potential. Contemporary interior design both benefits by and is driven by this evolution in a virtuous cycle. There’s a tendency for new products to become more stylized and physically smaller once we perfect functionality. While this process isn’t always the case in every industry, it is something we can observe currently with things like consumer electronics and housewares.
If you've been alive over the last 80 or so years, you may have noticed that computers no longer take up an entire room. In fact, the processor powering the smartphone in your pocket has more potential than the original space shuttle that took us to the moon. Comparatively, kitchen appliances and other housewares have become sleeker, smarter, and better at what they do. If you were to tell someone from twenty years ago that their refrigerator would have a touchscreen, a camera to display its content and be connected to WiFi to relay info back to an app on your smartphone; after they asked what WiFi and a “smartphones” are, they'd laugh and ask "Why?"
Sometimes it’s impossible to predict where the future will take us because society is sculpted by current events and desires that we didn’t know were necessary, but also because of emerging science and technology. We could begin to explain to the khaki-laden 1998 human that these features are beneficial to our everyday life now because it’s nice to be able to see into the fridge without opening the door and contents warming up, which then kicks on the compressor, wasting unnecessary energy. Or perhaps we want that WiFi connectability so we can also see that image on our phone while at the store because we forgot to check if we were out of eggs. These are the luxuries we are afforded with the widespread publicly available tech implemented into all facets of our life.
The way products come to life is through necessity to solve an inherent problem with an activity we encounter in everyday life. Then some bright person will develop a fundamental solution to this problem, which will be designed and engineered into a working product. Over time, people will use this product, which will inevitably be improved upon either in its functionality or aesthetics based on user feedback, testing, or just sparks of genius. Solving the initial problem is monumental, but where it goes from there is the purely kinetic energy of a million brilliant minds.
Take the oven we all know today, for example. Every aspect of the modern oven is honed to perform its task with optimal efficiency down to the specific materials used, calculated internal volume, proper electrical engineering, and so on. However, it’s all derivative of a simple concept: using heat to cook food. Its humble origins could be attributed to the discovery of fire, which in time was harnessed and encapsulated within a chamber. Along the way, humans realized more potential for this apparatus and redesigned accordingly.
It had expansion opportunities, such as heating a cold house through the winter months. It wasn’t long ago that the oven was still very crude, unsightly, and really only existed to serve a utilitarian purpose. The same went for most appliances in the home; therefore they certainly weren’t envisioned as a part of the decor. Now step back into the current where contemporary interior design brings us a new perspective on the functionality of our homes. Kitchens need not be the epicenter of hot and sweaty drudgery, but rather a focal gathering point for the family and party guests. We now want to show off the beautiful integration of modern appliances, sleek Euro-inspired design, and the newest technological gadgets.
If we go back to how new products are developed, I mentioned that designers would sometimes envision scenarios a generalized population could be encountering and try to solve problems along the way. This can result in lightbulb moments of ingenuity, but it doesn’t always commiserate with all issues. Therefore, focus groups are crucial to understanding the direction of problem-solving that needs to happen. Again, this is still a small percentage of users and can’t accomplish everything. Enter interior designers, those who interface directly with real people living real lives having real encounters. An interior designer is getting into the psyche of the clients they’re serving and understanding where they’re coming from, manifesting their dream space. This process drives the evolution of the home because we, as designers listen to what the homeowner wants and make it a reality with available tools and materials.
Because from time to time our desires do not always exist. This moment is where inspiration is born, and we stumble upon the next big thing. Thus, a feedback loop between interior and industrial design, feeding off of each other’s outputs. Those designing the products seek to know what those utilizing them need, and alternatively, those planning your new home try to understand what the next product is to make life better. A marriage made in heaven.
by: Brock Slowinski