Despite many futurologists over the years making twits of themselves I still believe in projecting oneself into the future and imagining how it will look and feel. It can also make good sense. Kitchens are big investments, whether designer or luxury kitchens or from the ‘big sheds’. To choose right we need to develop our skills at scenario-planning and this is a key part of what we do. It is prudent to think how your new kitchen will be used in the future, ensuring the overall design in a practical sense, durable emotionally. This will help ensure a long life span.
360 degree vision while you cook
Cool but long-term loveable?
The students on Bucks New University’s Kitchen Design course and I were recently lucky enough to host a futurist from Manchester, Tom Cheesewright. As an engineer Tom is practical and grounded. His focus on where technology meets social behaviour provided us with insights that avoided clichés. He explained how the flow of online information is making us all more open about who we are as technology lowers the barriers to ideas and fashions and allows them to spread rapidly over time and space. A long time ago (the 1950s and 60s) fashion-conscious British youth could choose between Mods and Rockers for an assumed identity. Now in contrast, they or we can evaluate large numbers of social tribes around the world and piece together unique blended identities from the information, Tom said. We have all noticed the ways people express who they’d like to be through the purchase of fashion, cars, home décor, garden plants, literature, music (maybe not always purchase) and other cultural products.
The drivers for behavioural changes are economic as well as cultural. Home ownership is on the decline in this country after decades of rises, down 5% last year. In our largest cities 50% of homes are rented, for an average of three years. Singles, especially the young, increasingly live in multiple occupancy homes. So designers need to think about easily customisable interiors using updateable skins or surfaces and items that can be moved between houses – freestanding rather than built-in. I see this happening with, for example, fridges. Once everyone aspired to an American Sub-Zero. Now it’s all about a freestanding fridge in a vintage colour from Smeg.
What this demands from designers is agility (Tom’s word) in responding rapidly to changing trends. The risk of not doing so is clear. We are used to seeing organisations wrong-footed by a lack of foresight and flexibility (one example is the rapid death of HMV as they failed to spot digital music coming towards them). Current kitchens often suffer from rapid irrelevance: Howdens’ figure for the average life of a kitchen, not one of theirs, is a shocking 5.7 years. To prevent this waste, furniture and fittings must be able to be smoothly reconfigured and restyled using modular design, new materials and integrated digital components.
The ubiquity of computer chips – the way they are no longer just found in recognizable computing devices like laptops, tablets, phones – was a key theme of Tom’s talk. Increasingly, these devices are being embedded in the environment around us: clothes, accessories, walls, floors and furniture – and we walk around in exercise bands. The cost of connecting any object to the internet is now less than £1, the technological problems of doing this largely overcome. The big challenge for designers is finding decent uses for this capability, assuming these exist. So far the search for a killer app eludes them as items such as smart watches suffer from over-engineering. Crystal ball prediction from Tom: in the home this will be simple reliable functions that add real pleasure and utility, rather than gimmicks. We do not know what these are yet but they will come, trust in that. For now there is no technology that gives as much benefit as a window onto a garden…
Perhaps for your garage?
Food and eating habits are fertile grounds for scenario-planners.
The growth of home-based food production is one of Tom’s predictions as climate change puts pressure on traditional supplies. Hydroponic herb and vegetable cultivators are already available for domestic kitchens. The grocery market is expected to continue diversifying, as large supermarkets struggle to maintain their grip and our loyalties drift to and from farmers’ markets, organic box suppliers (we use Riverford), farm shops, online specialist suppliers like Ottolenghi and – randomly picked – the Japan Centre.Or, Tom again: ‘how about fresh bread and pastry deliveries by drone? They’re nice and light… [you could order from your bed] and a bag of fresh croissants arrives at your door five minutes later’.
Nearly ready for your kitchen. Courtesy Electrolux
For those interested in back to the future visions from the past of how we might be living now. Enjoy watching this future flick!