How Induction Heats Up the Race for Better Cooktop Interfaces
While induction is not a new technology, it’s finally beginning to trigger the next great wave of interface design.
The cooktop has long been the centerpiece of the kitchen. The most active appliance, and often the most distinctive, the stovetop is the start of every great meal. And while they’re simple to use, cooktops are among the most challenging appliances to design.
The blend of form and function is paramount in the kitchen, where aesthetics rule only as long as the cooktop still sautés vegetables or warms soup. The designs of the future depend in large part on the technologies and materials available.
Gas and electric cooktops, for example, generate significant heat—as high as 350 degrees Fahrenheit—that limits the materials that can be used, the designs that can be achieved, and the user interfaces that can be developed. And safety, not usability, comes first.
Cooktops often require much more interaction than ovens or refrigerators, for example, with home cooks constantly adjusting temperatures, moving pots, and switching burners. Since cooktops are highly tactile and also highly dangerous, appliance designers must keep user safety in mind, with many relying on knobs or offset push button interfaces to keep home cooks away from dangerous heat sources.
But induction cooktops are rewriting the rules of cooktop design, creating new form factors and user interface possibilities while ensuring the cooktop remains an eye-catching part of every kitchen for decades to come.
The rise of induction
Instead of relying on indirect heat sources like gas or electric, induction cooktops use electromagnetic energy to directly heat pots and pans. In fact, induction technology doesn’t rely on traditional heating elements at all. Instead, induction burners below the cooktop surface use magnetic waves to turn the pot into the heat source. The technology allows induction cooktops to stay much cooler than traditional gas or electric stoves. This development not only revolutionizes how we can cook, but also shatters the design barriers associated with gas and electric interfaces.
In the stove world today, induction cooktops are seeing the greatest advancements in interface and display design. By working with technologies that produce lower residual heat, manufacturers are able to push the limits of appliance design to make easy-to-use and sophisticated cooktops that elevate kitchen aesthetics. Advances in materials have also opened up new possibilities in color and interface design. Here are just a few of the up-and-coming trends in cooktop display design made possible by induction.
Latest display trends for induction cooktops
1. Familiar touchscreens.
Appliance designers have always drawn inspiration from the consumer electronics and automotive industries. These fields are consistently on the cutting edge of the user experience, developing new, easy, and engaging ways to encourage user interactions. And for the past decade, they’ve increasingly done so with touchscreen technology.
Touchscreens were once unheard of in cooktops, as most designers smartly kept cooks’ hands and fingers away from dangerous heat sources. Yet with the advent of induction, more and more cooktops can feature touchscreen interfaces where users can directly interact with their cooktop glass without fear of burns.
As induction technology continues to gain momentum in the U.S. market, more and more cooktops will begin incorporating this feature.
2. Diverse designs.
For years, black glass-ceramic stood as the choice material for gas and electric cooktops. While that suited most kitchen designs, it did limit the available aesthetics. Now, transparent glass-ceramic allows appliance designers to better distinguish their cooking surfaces with a range of colors and styles for more diverse designs.
For example, on its new induction cooktop, one appliance manufacturer uses a glass-ceramic with a steel gray finish. The result is a unique cooktop that not only matches other stainless steel appliances, but provides a user-friendly surface.
3. Tactile controls.
Since induction technology reduces the ambient heat of cooktops, appliance designers are free to more safely incorporate the sense of touch into displays and interfaces. As a result, designers are opting for more tactile control options. For instance, new technologies allow appliance manufacturers to print visible and tangible textures onto the glass-ceramic cooktop and link those textures to touchscreen-like controls.
These textures can represent commands such as on and off controls and power levels. This tactile element maintains the sleek and modern design of glass-ceramic while adding physical cues to the touch controls to allow for greater precision in adjusting temperatures.
4. Colorful lighting.
Next-generation black glass-ceramic and new transparent glass-ceramic for induction cooktops also open up a wider spectrum of lighting options for cooktop design. LEDs have long been used to light up specific features on glass-ceramic cooktops to signal hot areas, active use, burner divisions, and more. But traditional black glass-ceramic—which is actually a deep red—obscures light transmission and limits lights positioned under the cooktop to a reddish glow. These early lights were often off-color and unclear.
But advancements in glass production now allow manufacturers to more effectively utilize the full color spectrum. For instance, next-generation black glass-ceramics now allow appliance manufacturers to achieve colors like blue and white, which were never before possible due to traditional limitations in the material. New transparent glass-ceramic goes a step further, allowing appliance designers to achieve transmission of all of the colors on the light spectrum. With this advancement, more appliance designers will be able to integrate the full range of colors into their cooktop designs in order to distinguish their ranges, fit them into a wider assortment of kitchen styles, and better convey information to cooks.
For instance, one induction cooktop incorporates white LED lights into next-generation black glass-ceramic to clearly outline burner areas and signal active induction surfaces. By using these design features, appliance manufacturers will be able to add a unique aesthetic that matches cooktops to the overall kitchen design.
5. All-over cooking.
The ultimate interface outcome of induction cooking is the removal of cooktop burner divisions altogether. Since induction technology doesn’t use heat sources to warm food, there’s no longer a need for burner divisions along the cooktop. Instead, non-specific pot placement will grow in popularity, allowing home cooks to place their pots and pans anywhere on the glass-ceramic surface, and then leave it to the cooktop to locate and heat the pan.
The concept of all-over cooking completely changes how consumers will interact with their cooktops, as home cooks will now have ultimate control over their stove tops. Also, this will eliminate the need for the standard control system that syncs buttons or knobs with specific burners. Instead, controls only appear when a pot is placed on the stove, making them purely functional and leaving more room for design. (Whirlpool displayed this kitchen-of-the-future concept with its interactive cooktop at CES 2014, but similar products continue to emerge on the appliance market.)
The future of cooktop display and design
Appliance interface design continues to change and adapt depending on larger consumer tastes that span numerous industries. As consumers require easier-to-use, sleeker, and more sophisticated displays, it’s up to appliance manufacturers to design the next great interfaces. But advancements in interface design get a significant boost when the underlying technologies also march forward, opening new room for innovation.
While induction is not a new technology, it’s finally beginning to trigger the next great wave of interface design. Expect these trends to eventually trickle down to gas and electric stoves as popular demand continues to push these trends forward. More designers are seeking materials and features that create innovative and useful appliances that offer the home cook a superior experience as well as a worthy centerpiece for their kitchen.