Refrigerator Design: Contextual Design creates insight to improve refrigerator design

A leading manufacturer of major home appliances with annual sales over 12 billion dollars asked InContext Design to help them understand how to improve their "bottom mount" refrigerator models—a model with the freezer below the refrigerator compartment—and capture market share from their competitors. The client knew that bottom-mount owners are highly devoted to this kind of refrigerator.

Challenge

  • What really works and doesn’t work for users in everyday life?
  • What is the appeal of bottom-mount refrigerators to the purchaser?
  • Once a user has the refrigerator in their home, what strategies do they use for storing food, for cleaning and maintenance and finally what is the overall fit of the appliance in the home?

“We learned that there is a difference between marketing research and user centered design research – the level of detail of the data and insight into how people use our products is clear and immediately actionable.”

Human Factors Specialist

Delivering Results

The client was able to see the possibilities for moving more directly into this market. The project:

  • Identified the central sales point for bottom mount refrigerators
  • Determined customers’ latent needs and implications of those needs for design and marketing
  • Uncovered several new consumer types that could be used to expand the client’s existing market segments and lead to new messages, sales support, and product features
  • Recommended specific design modifications that would allow new products to better meet the needs of the consumer
  • Showed how the client’s web site could be better leveraged to further meet the needs of consumers and provide them with a positive experience with the brand prior to purchase

The Process

fridge4.jpg

Gathering field data

The client approached InContext to conduct a market study that would answer their questions. “We’ve worked with market research companies before,” said the Human Factors Specialist assigned to the freezer division. “But we wanted to see how InContext’s organized way of handling user data and generating recommendations would reveal latent needs and the rich data about how people use our appliances.”

fridge3InContext designed a study of bottom-mount refrigerator owners using our Contextual Inquiry process to discover consumers’ strategies, goals, and values. The team watched customers in their homes as they brought in groceries, loaded the refrigerator, used it in everyday life, and even cleaned the refrigerator. Using digital photos they captured key aspects of user’s issues and strategies.

The client team came along on visits and participated in the interpretation of the data. In this way the combined perspectives of the client and InContext led to new insights and awareness.

“We were surprised and pleased at the level of detail you can collect with Contextual Interviews. The Contextual Design models let us see distinctions in how these refrigerators were used that we never realized before,” said the Human Factors Specialist.

Using structured data to drive solution concepts

fridge2 The team delivered the customer data along with product and marketing recommendations—product improvement suggestions to reveal the value of these appliances and increase sales. A visioning workshop introduced the product planners, industrial designers, and other stakeholders to the data and let them generate new directions for the product.

“We were looking for latent needs and we got them. The requirements were clear and the data was relevant for any kind of refrigerator, not just bottom mounts,” said the Human Factors specialist. The team was able to educate the client management team based on real data. From that understanding clear marketing messages could be developed that truly spoke to the reasons why customers buy bottom-mount refrigerators.