It Helps to be Smart: the 2018 IDSA Design Excellence Awards for Home Products
FIDSA is a member of the Academy of Fellows of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and is Professor of Practice in the Department of Human-Centered Computing at IU’s School of Informatics and Computing.
The best known IDSA award program has to be the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) recognizing design excellence in product design from around the world.
The IDEA is a benchmark of design excellence, not a collection of the latest eye candy. As the premier international design competition, IDEA recognizes excellence across a wide array of industries and disciplines, including commercial products, entertainment, home goods, social impact designs and student designs. More recently, IDEA gold level award winners are housed in a permanent collection at The Henry Ford in Detroit, serving as a lasting symbol of innovation and design-craft.
The IDSA just announced all of the 145 IDEA winners for 2018. This year’s IDEA jury was led by Michael Kahwaji, IDSA, senior design manager at Whirlpool, and included nearly three dozen experts representing a wide range of design disciplines, coming from some of the world’s largest corporations, major design studios and leading universities. While the IDEA has 20 distinct competition categories, each reflecting the broad nature of industrial design and its impact on daily life, we’ll focus here on the winners in the “home” products category (which includes kitchen products).
As expected in a category that covers such a broad range of consumer products, the awards submissions feature a wide variety of expressions in materials and finishes, manufacturing processes, mechanisms, and electronics, all designed to meet carefully targeted consumer needs. This category is also known for its expansive band of retail price points, from sub $50 stack-and-sell items to carefully considered major purchases costing thousands of dollars and requiring third-party installation. With this in mind, it’s incredible to see this year’s IDEA winners dominated by one major product attribute: connectivity. Even the most casual glance at the 19 award winners left the impression that a product needed to be “smart” in order to be recognized as a benchmark for design excellence.
A look at the data from previous IDEA awards supports this view. In 2018, eight of the 19 award winners in the Home products category, or 42% of the total, featured connectivity as a key product attribute. Compare this to the number of connected product award winners of the previous two years, where only 13% of the total of award winners combined featured connectivity. It should be noted that from a total awards standpoint, the 19 awards handed out in the home products category in 2018 is significantly lower than the 32 total winners in 2016 and 43 award winners in 2017. However the winning products featuring connectivity in 2018 still represented three times the percentage of winning products of 2016 and 2017 combined. To paraphrase what they say during election coverage, “while still early in the voting, it’s safe to call this contest a win” for connectivity in home products.
Not surprisingly, of the 2018 home award winners that featured connectivity, Google’s Nest business unit led the way with four awards, including recognition for their third generation of thermostats, the Nest E. The 2018 award for Nest E makes three consecutive design awards for Nest and their thermostats. They won an award for the original Nest, an award for the second generation Nest, and Nest E makes three. Despite the company’s young age, Nest has a well-earned reputation for design excellence, and proves the IDEA recognizes continuous improvement in product design as well as entirely new products.
The 2018 IDEA home category winners also suggest that well-designed smart home products are currently being led by home security gadgets and systems. The $149 August smart lock is a case in point. The unit not only performs all the tasks associated with a smart lock, including automatically unlocking for recognized users, it installs over an existing deadbolt and interior door in less than 15 minutes. And while smart home gadget introductions seem to be dominated by younger tech startups, a couple of well-regarded incumbents in the appliance business were represented in the 2018 IDEA. The Kohler IoT Kit was recognized for its well-designed, comprehensive systems approach to sensors and related controls for the kitchen and bath. Grohe’s reputation for elegant yet robust design was once again rewarded for its Sense and Sense Guard water leak detectors.
Closing out the smart home winners was a home-security offering of a different variety: cybersecurity. The Dojo by Bullguard is designed to protect home Wi-Fi networks and the associated IoT devices attached to them from cyber-attacks and malware. Unencumbered by the visual design cues associated with traditional IT devices, the design team at NewDealDesign created a unique visual language that communicates the peace of mind the Dojo intends to deliver to the smart-home homeowner.