The average, postage stamp-sized urban kitchen is a very inefficient use of space, as most New Yorkers will tell you. Sitting on the counter, in all their oversized glory, are any number of machines that grind, puree, juice, cook, brew and occupy valuable kitchen real estate. Each of these machines has its own motor, power supply and controls, and each is doing its own thing independently of the other. “It’s a very fractured environment, a redundant combination of one-off systems that don’t talk to each other,” says Jonas Damon, frog creative director.
What if all those appliances could be reduced to a single device, with everything stripped away except for one motor, power supply, and control panel? That was the challenge to frog designers as they developed the EcoSwitch concept for long time frog client General Electric, the industrial giant that also produces small and large kitchen appliances. While frog has worked with GE mostly on digital projects, this was an opportunity to think about a physical product for the kitchen through the lens of the company’s Ecomagination program.
The kitchen was a good choice because it is a platform for meals and nourishment as well as the hearth of family life – one that lacks, however, a smartphone-like ability to combine various functions into one multi-functional device. The ultimate aim of EcoSwitch, Damon explains, “was to create one device that, with help of sophisticated technology, does many things well while eliminating duplication and saving energy.”
EcoSwitch has two components: the base station, or hub, and different vessels that function as kettle, blender, slow cooker and coffee maker. The hub is based on induction heating, a technology GE offers in premium appliances that uses electromagnetic energy to stimulate molecules (there’s no heat loss through layers of material, as the technology turns the pots themselves into the heating elements).
Embedded in each vessel is a unique RFID tag, which communicates the unique function to the hub. When placed on the hub, the OLED display immediately shows only the touch controls relevant to that vessel’s specific function: a kettle, for example, will only show the user on-off buttons; a blender will show variable speed controls and a pulse function. In this way, the multi-functional EcoSwitch automatically behaves like a dedicated appliance each time it is used, no matter which vessel is placed on the hub.
EcoSwitch reflects a broader shift in kitchen design toward sleeker, more unobtrusive spaces. Appliances large and small are hidden and islands gone; the kitchen is flush with the wall, or set in a hallway that flows into the living room and blends with the décor. “The kitchen has taken on a greater role in our lives but rather than becoming larger it is being absorbed into our living quarters, with a smaller, more eco-friendly footprint,” Damon says.
This minimalist approach is reflected in the design of the EcoSwitch hub and vessels. Clad in a contemporary, reflective metal enclosure, the hub is similar to many our favorite consumer electronic products. The vessels are traditional iconic forms, now devoid of mechanical parts, that are easy for users to recognize based on their function.
An appliance-free kitchen might not appeal to everyone, of course. Many dedicated chefs depend on super-specialized machines to whip up a gourmet meal. But for young urban singles, who are more likely to be casual cooks, a simple and good-looking kitchen device that easily performs many functions might be a compelling design idea.