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By Frank Reichert, Fabian Kraft & Thomas Hirt – June 22, 2010 • The definitive version was published in Interfaces 83, see the copyright note below
In this report, Frank Reichert and Fabian Kraft present a novel interactive kitchen system that they created as part of their studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf.
Figure 1: iKitchen
Thomas Hirt was a lecturer on interaction design in the design department at Düsseldorf, and some of his recent work has focused on digital media and corporate identity. In 2010 he became Professor for Crossmedia and Integrated Communication at the University of Applied Sciences in Trier. The design department started a new degree program, "Intermedia Design", covering physical interaction, hypermedia, interactive systems, crossmedia, narrative formats and game design.
The challenge that Frank and Fabian faced was another facet of Thomas's interests: to develop visionary concepts and designs for an interactive kitchen interface. Like those of the other students, Frank and Fabian's project was a collaboration with an industry partner (Gaggenau) so the project was not only about design but also involved the entire product development life-cycle, including a market analysis on which the final design concepts were based.
The first built-in kitchen was created in 1926, by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, who devoted her whole life to the improvement of women's living conditions. Her famous design became renowned as the ‘Frankfurter Küche'. Moving forward in time to 1969, Honeywell launched the 'H316 kitchen computer': the first home computer for a kitchen. More recently, Bill Gates proposed an intelligent house in his book The Road Ahead in 1996. Anyway that's the past and here is the future.
Nowadays, interface design of all types of media and products is part of our daily life. It helps us to drive (navigation systems), make phone calls, travel, send messages or listen to music. But it is not used so much in the kitchen – a place that truly seems in need of an intelligent work flow; just ask a housewife or a student. Frank and Fabian wanted to change that and aspired to deliver on five things:
Today's households contain many types of users with different needs and of course using different utensils applied to a diversity of tasks. If you only look at cooking there are at least three discernible and different user groups: first, users who only heat convenience foods; second, housewives who are more than used to multitasking (putting the casserole into the oven, looking after the crying baby and feeding the cat, etc); and third, the gourmets, who celebrate preparing food and all that goes with the experience of enjoying it.
So let's take a closer look at the users and their special needs: the convenience user wants to know why he should eat more healthy food, and what to do with an avocado, for example. The housewife wants to keep track of her cooking as she attends to a multiplicity of tasks and interruptions like answering phone calls, and have the food finished on schedule. The gourmet spends most of his free time in the kitchen. He is devoted to the perfect preparation of his meal and loves to share his experiences. But there is one more user type who is not interested in cooking or even recipes at all. To his mind, it's too complicated and so he would be pleased with what Frank and Fabian have developed for everyone like him.
Figure 2: Overview of iKitchen
The technical opportunities to simplify work in the kitchen are available. Frank and Fabian's goal was to use them properly. They wanted to create a device that is not a distraction from cooking, but rather supports the making of food, because it's so easy to use – and not flashy or intrusive at all.
So how does it work? Every piece of software should have some nice hardware to go with it. In this case, the hardware is made up of a portable display: a 20-inch multi-touch screen. Size and portability ensure that the display can easily be used and anyone can read what it says, even at a distance or in a busy situation. The portability allows the user to take the screen wherever he needs it; and that's not only the kitchen. For instance: the convenience guy can take it to his couch and TV; the housewife can bring it into the baby's room; the gourmet can take it into his vegetable garden to check what he needs for the risotto with fresh herbs. The touch screen is charged via its induction field in the cooking station. Since the screen is likely to come into contact with oil, liquids and leftover food, it should be washable, and, in the best case, dishwasher safe.
Figure 3: A selection of iKitchen screens
Frank and Fabian paid special attention to the interface design, which offers three different options:
The main part is the Kitchen mode, of course. It proceeds as follows:
Every kitchen device, for example oven, dish-washer, fridge and microwave, has its own section and interface. One can easily control the heat of the oven and start the dishwasher at the same time by touching the screen.
You start every cooking process by asking yourself what to eat. To make it less difficult or to find out what you can do with the food in your fridge, you check out the recipe section. You can filter the recipes according to your preferences. As soon as you click on a certain recipe, you will be shown the ingredients, level of difficulty, duration and links to the technical devices in the kitchen. If you then click on the oven, it will start to heat up according to the recipe. The induction field shows exactly the position of all pans and pots placed on it. That way you can use the place in an optimal way and you don't waste energy. If you want to invite friends to share the meal, you can easily contact them by using the community function, which allows text messages and phone calls. If your friends can't come over you can have a video-cooking session.
By means of their kitchen operation system Frank and Fabian have proved that cooking can be fun even if you are not a chef. They have also shown that everyone's needs can be addressed, and that not only technical 'nerds' can deal with it. With their concept of a portable multi-touch screen they also fulfil the other four propositions: functionality, effectiveness, clarity and simplicity. The interface is also easily internationalized: the interface design is totally icon-free, and only words need to be changed to use it in every language or country.
Frank Reichert has been working in the field of interface and web design for eight years. He has worked for several German agencies and companies all over Europe. In 2008 and 2009 he worked for one of the most renowned interactive agencies in the world: Fi New York. In 2010 he graduate from the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf.
Thomas Hirt studied Product Design at Dresden University of Science and Technology. He is responsible for the Digital Communication at ERCO GmbH and was lecturer at Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences, where he was visiting professor from 2003 to 2005. He has conducted workshops at Chinese and Japanese universities and gives regular lectures at institutions such as the Management Circle, the DDV (German Designer Association) and the Design Center Stuttgart. In 2010 he became Professor for Crossmedia and Integrated Communication at the University of Applied Sciences in Trier.