There is no doubt that, with each passing virtual event I attend, I’m craving the opportunity to get back to face-to-face meetings and conventions. As much as it’s the human interaction that I’m missing, equally as upsetting is the fact that I’m missing out on the chance to get up close and personal with some really incredible products in the past year.
That said, one thing I’ve learned about virtual events is that, even without the opportunity to be in the same vicinity as these products and the people talking about them, we can all still learn a lot about the trends and ideas that are shaping any particular category.
Virtual KBIS certainly had its challenges, as any attendee this year would tell you. But the struggles with the virtual show floor simply meant we had more time to attend sessions and keynote presentations.
One in particular that stood out at this show was the Design Bites competition. In its sixth year, Design Bites is an event that gives brands the opportunity to pitch their latest — and most innovative — product designs to a panel of judges. That panel, which is made up of industry leaders, members of the media and a number of design influencers, then comes together to select a winner among all of those products.
Spoiler alert: LG’s Studio Washtower was this year’s winner.
What’s so incredible about the Design Bites competition, though, is that any one of the eight products up for consideration could easily have taken home the honors. And the program itself serves as a microcosm for the innovation on display during KBIS, while offering a glimpse at the future for this industry.
Up and down the list of products, it’s interesting to see how nearly every brand infuses just a touch of technology into what their products do in order to improve the customer experience. And that last word in particular — experience — seems to be at the core of what every kitchen appliance brand is focused on when it comes to product design. That sounds like a given, but it’s clear that manufacturers are finding new and unique ways to use technology to elevate that customer experience in ways that allow their products to actually improve over time.
Take the Monogram 48” Pro range as an example. The design elements of the product (and the rest of the Monogram lineup) are enough to make any cooking enthusiast drool. But the touch of technology within the range elevates things to a whole different level. The Pro range uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, allowing the user to apply future updates to the unit, meaning the experience can actually get better over time. That same technology can be used to sync up with a connected skillet to ensure consistent and precise cooking temperatures.
What’s even better about Monogram’s range and the other products in the Design Bites program is that they prove technology innovations in major household appliances don’t always have to come in the form of a large touchscreens. The winning LG Washtower is a perfect example of that. The unit employs artificial intelligence to ensure an efficient wash and dry cycle. Using sensors, LG’s tower can detect textures, fabrics, the size of items in the drums in order to suggest the optimal settings. So, aside from the sleek design that allows for an expertly built-in look, the product is among the smartest washer/dryer units you will find.
We even saw that simpler technology improvements can have a dramatic impact on the customer experience with certain products. Signature Kitchen Suite showed an undercounter convertible drawer refrigerator that allows the homeowner to control the temperature of the drawers — meaning, based on their needs, the user can opt to have the drawers act as a combo refrigerator-freezer, or adjust the temperature of one drawer to get a two-level fridge. Control4 showed off their Chime Video Doorbell that integrates into the Control4 OS app, making it simple to answer your doorbell and unlock your connected front door all from the same app environment. There was the Kohler Tone faucet collection that integrates voice control technology into modern faucet designs.
Point being here, manufactures are finding plenty of ways to innovate in the kitchen and throughout the home with the use of technology. Specifically, they’re using technology to improve the in-home experience with their products. And while technology in the kitchen or other areas on the home often carries this connotation of being complicated, the brands involved with the Design Bites program at KBIS proved how that doesn’t have to be the case.
An appliance or other product doesn’t have to look like a big piece of technology in order to reap the benefits of being a connected device. But what customers are starting to learn — and perhaps expect — is that even the slightest integration of tech into their major appliances can yield a better, more-efficient lifestyle.
Rob is the corporate communications manager for Nationwide Marketing Group.