The futuristic prototypes Maytag highlighted at the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the company might set itself apart from "the great white wall" of traditional major appliances in the years to come, according to Maytag's new design chief.
Joseph Ungari, who joined Maytag to head its industrial design center about six months ago, is looking to develop appliances that consumers can connect with, he recently told TWICE.
"The emotional hook has been lacking in the appliance industry for the past 30 years," Ungari declared. With the kitchen becoming more and more the emotional focus of the home, he said, appliance innovators should be considering design strategies such as "humanware" - a concept first popularized by Stephen Marzano, VP of design for Philips Electronics, where Ungari worked before joining Maytag.
"Humanware is the notion that products should speak to people's senses and elicit some sort of warm, comfortable response," Ungari said. And with Maytag's stepped-up focus on innovation in recent years, "people are looking to us for products that they can bond with, products that project a personality that jumps out at consumers, appealing subliminally and outwardly."
Products such as the avant-garde prototype refrigerators that took center stage at Maytag's K/BIS exhibit, he indicated. Those units, with curved lines and sparkly, candy-apple colors such as raspberry and teal, signaled the potential for "a new aggressiveness in aesthetics and form" for the appliance industry.
Ungari said the conceptual refrigerators reflect styling that emulates natural "bios," a visual integration of lines and surfaces that swell and blend into each other rather than crashing together at sharp intersections.
As for the unusual hues, Ungari added, "eventually we might offer a whole palette of colors. We're even getting to the point in this industry where we could produce customization, offering smaller quantities of appliances in a variety of colors according to demand."
Maytag also showed off several interactive digital modules at K/BIS, including a "kitchen agent" offering two-way communication from the kitchen to chefs around the world, and a "digital pillow" with built-in monitor that could be used to check on a roast in the oven, watch the kids in the backyard, or touch base with friends via videophone.
Although the entire display was described as "ideational" and not representative of exact products being developed - like the concept cars of the auto industry - Ungari said, "These prototypes are an example of how it's possible to bring fun back into a task-based industry."
The purpose of the K/BIS "concept car" display was to create "an innovation road map for the future of design, based on products with real benefits and compelling forms that delight the senses," added Kent Baker, Maytag's VP of strategic marketing.