In my talk at Bucks New Uni on the future kitchen, I highlighted three trends: kitchens of the future will be adaptable, productive and smart.
When I analyse the future of any given market, I use my Intersections process, which looks for connections between five macro-trends that are primarily driven by technology, and pressure points in any given market.
The future of kitchen appliances
Tomorrow’s kitchen needs to be a place that can be re-skinned and reconfigured for different people’s needs over its lifespan. If technology can deliver an advantage then someone will deploy it, because the barriers to doing so are falling all the time, just as the competitive drivers rise. Digitally re-skinnable units? Super-hard new-material surfaces? There are many options.
Sat in my own kitchen right now, I’m close to a voice assistant (Amazon Echo), a Wi-Fi connected speaker (Jam Audio Symphony), a robot vacuum cleaner (Vorwerk Kobold VR200), programmable, touch-screen driven ovens, as well as various other bits of tech. This isn’t me showing off, this is increasingly the reality of the modern, middle-class kitchen: automation, and internet connected devices.
Some of this existing technology has the potential to ameliorate the impact of the ageing body and mind on the ability of people to care for themselves. Voice-driven reminders and recipes, automation of challenging tasks (floor cleaning), self-programming smart ovens, smart induction hobs — much safer than gas, and probably more cost-effective in the long run.
And it’s clear a lot can be improved just with better design: putting things at the right height, with sufficient light, for example.
How will design influence future food tech?
In my original research on the future kitchen, it was clear that there is a huge and growing care challenge, and a problem with housing for younger adults. Getting on the property ladder as a couple is difficult now, let alone solo. We’re seeing more people cohabiting with friends and family later in life. Many people have put one and one together to solve both problems.
The problem is that the lives of the young and the ageing may be inherently incompatible. At least when trying to cohabit in existing housing stock. We keep different hours, have different expectations for behaviour. Living in close proximity 24/7 could be incredibly challenge with a lot of compromise.
We also have a lot in common, of course. Food, for example.
Perhaps the real design challenge is to create homes that support socialisation, support and collaboration around common areas — like the kitchen — but allow much greater separation in other areas.
The productive kitchen is about making it a place where we grow food as well as prepare and consume it.
Back to the Future (as usual) got there early with the ceiling fruit garden, but given the incredible groundswell of grass-roots development around this idea, I think it will be reality fairly soon.
As I’ve written about before, the idea of a new appliance in your kitchen, the size of a dishwasher (or maybe even part of the fridge) that grows food rather than stores it is increasingly practical. LED grow lights are cheap, microcontrollers and internet connections ubiquitous, and appliances already contain all the pumps and valves that a hydroponics system might need.
Community in kitchen design
With more properties now private rentals, growing multiple occupancy, and a much more diverse range of social and cultural influences, people are going to want a lot of different things from limited space.
Whether it’s a new tenant every three years, or multiple tenants in the same property, over the course of its lifetime the kitchen — a major investment expected to last a decade or so — is going to have to adapt.
That means reconfigurable layouts, modular units, and perhaps smart surfaces that can be digitally reconfigured. Think coloured e-ink reflective surfaces (cheap, low energy) rather than the OLEDs as you have on your phone screen (too bright, too expensive to run).
A microcosm of modern Britain
Tomorrow’s kitchen is a fascinating microcosm in which to explore many of the macro forces transforming our world. As we look at trends like smart kitchens, productivity and adaptability, we see the social benefits they bring and the role future food tech has within them.