If you feel like you’re squeezed for counter space in your kitchen today, imagine 50 years from now, when three-fourths of all people are projected to dwell in urban settings — resulting in less space for most cooks.
Such was the challenge posed by Electrolux’s 2010 Design Lab competition. The European manufacturer of kitchen appliances received more than 1,300 design entries from students in 50 countries trying to predict, as it were, the George Foreman Grill of the future: a kitchen appliance that saves time and space, doing so with style.
Matthew Gilbride, an NC State industrial design graduate student, was one of only eight finalists and the only finalist from the United States. His design of Elements Modular Kitchen shelving — which garnered the third place prize of 2,000 euros — includes wireless technology and the ability to heat, cool, and light a kitchen environment.
“Elements” may seem like something out of a Jetsons cartoon, but there’s a lot of practical research behind it. Gilbride studied state-of-the-art designs of boat galley spaces and examined how social insects such as bees are able to build efficient dwellings.
“The concept is basically a modular system that allows you to use as few as one of them, on up to any number of them,” he explained.
Gilbride’s undergraduate degree is in geology, but NC State’s industrial design program accepts master’s degree candidates with diverse backgrounds, so that wasn’t a roadblock.
Gilbride said he chose the College of Design for its national reputation and the caliber of its instructors.
One of those teachers, Associate Professor Bong-Il Jin, is a former automotive designer for Kia Motors. His rigorous industrial design courses prepare students for contests like the one sponsored by Electrolux and – more importantly – for design careers with some of the top companies in the world.
Jin said competitions allow students to focus their design knowledge on a particular problem.
He encourages students to follow a process of design thinking that includes identifying the problem to be solved, coming up with several different solutions of utility and styling, while making sure the ideas are in step with projected social trends.
“In the end, we select one good idea – and start to design,” Jin said.
The competition highlights how design innovation “has an energizing effect” in solving societal challenges, said Marvin J. Malecha, dean of the College of Design.
“It really asks how we will use the new technologies from science and put them to work in the lives of people,” he said. “Thomas Edison said that innovation is a combination of inventiveness and purposefulness. That’s really what we try to do here at the College of Design.”
Gilbride didn’t win the first prize of a paid internship with Electrolux, but he’s already hard at work as an intern at Raymond Corporation, a division of Toyota that makes forklifts. He hopes to spend his early career doing commercial work, eventually applying his knowledge to solve design problems in developing countries.