The kitchen of the future

Can market research play a part in design? Thomas Johansson, European Director of Electrolux Industrial Design, explains how research into consumer behaviour can help focus ideas for new products

What will the domestic appliances of the future be like? What common features will they have? The kitchen is increasingly a place for socialising, interacting with other people and entertaining guests – and food preparation has become a creative group activity. Flexibility is the priority in the home – and this idea was the starting-point for products presented at Milan's Design Library by Electrolux's Global Design Team in July. As is often the case with Electrolux designs, the ideas have been informed by an analysis of the consumer's needs and desires.
The “delocalised” individual thinks of home both as a nest and a world, and wants to feel "as if at home" when out. This is perhaps the most important finding to emerge from Roper Reports Worldwide, the annual survey of global consumer trends carried out for Electrolux by Gfk Roper Consulting. "Home" is a way of describing the physical space that mobile technology allows consumers to carry with them. At the same time, the traditional definition of the word is expanding – spa areas, gyms and home theatres have all become part of the domestic world. Staying in has become the new going out, and consumers are moving towards flexible definitions of their own identities. This change is also reflected in the way consumers choose products – often over the Internet or by word-of-mouth. The study also shows that there is greater flexibility between people's work and private lives. Work provides satisfaction and a sense of identity for some, but it can also intrude upon the private sphere.

Rendez-Vous is an interactive, multi-use table with an upper section that provides a single energy-transmitting surface. This means that electrical devices can be used without cables – you could charge a mobile phone or use a blender, for example, just by placing on the surface. The top of the unit is also an induction cooking system that uses sensor technology: there are no dedicated hobs, meaning that it is possible to heat a saucepan wherever it is placed on the unit. Underneath there are modular drawers that could be used for storing kitchenware, but could also house a refrigerator or similar appliance.
Volare, in contrast, is a whole kitchen in one unit. Its modular system allows the consumer complete freedom to personalise it according to need. Comprised of a refrigerator and an induction cooker, it is intuitive to use: heating water is simple, and it is not much more difficult to make an espresso.

Thomas Johansson is European Director of Electrolux Industrial Design and the head of a multicultural team of 55 designers working in design centres in Porcia (in the Italian province of Pordenone), Nuremberg and Stockholm.

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