Well, there is just under one week remaining for any design students and recent graduates out there to get your entries in to the 2013 Electrolux Design Lab competition before the closing date of March 15th. In case there is any doubt in your mind as to whether it is worth submitting an entry to the competition, I decided to talk to a previous winner about his experience entering Design Lab.
Rickard Hederstierna, was a student at the Lund Institute of Technology in Sweden when he entered the competition in 2009 with his design Cocoon. For Electrolux Design Lab’s seventh edition, undergraduate and graduate industrial design students were invited to send in their home appliance ideas for the next 90 years in celebration of the Electrolux 90-year anniversary. The brief was to create thoughtfully-designed products that will shape how people prepare and store food, wash clothes, and do dishes over the next nine decades. Over 900 entries were submitted from students in more than 50 countries and Rickard beat them all to scoop the top prize of EUR 5,000 and a six-month paid internship at an Electrolux global design center. Here, he tells us how he came up with his winning design, how he benefited from winning Design Lab and he gives his advice to anyone thinking of entering this year.
How did you first get involved with Electrolux Design Lab?
I first heard about Design Lab when I started my education back in 2004. I was flicking through Core 77 when I saw the competition but I never actually submitted anything until 2009, which was my last year at University. I wasn’t sure what I should do for my final project so I decided to treat the Electrolux Design Lab competition as the brief for my final University project. The brief for Electrolux Design Lab 2009 was ‘Design for the next 90 years’ and that was very challenging because dealing with the future is hard as nobody knows what will happen.
Where did you get the idea for your concept?
I was really struggling with the brief as it was really challenging to look 90 years into the future without making something that is really futuristic and techy. I wanted to design something that had substance rather than falling in love with technology. All too often when you mention future and product design people start to dream away. But I wanted to look at things that haven’t changed in the past 90 years. If these things haven’t changed in that past 90 years they probably won’t change that much in the next 90 years. That was more or less the basis of my argument.
What kind of research did you do for your entry?
I started by contacting a guy who works as a future forecaster in Copenhagen in Denmark. I asked him what would happen in the next 90 years and of course he couldn’t tell me anything, as he normally works just one or two years ahead. What he taught me though was that I should look at creating different scenarios of how certain things will change over time and within these scenarios we will find needs that new products can fulfil. When creating my scenario I looked at the demographic reports from the United Nations which reported that population growth will have a huge impact on how we live our lives on the planet, what we consume and what we eat. I started to realise that if we continue to eat what we do now we will need to find new ways to create this food.
Can you tell us about the design that you entered?
When designing Cocoon, I started to explore unconventional and unnatural ways to create natural food. I started to read lots of scientific blogs and articles and I discovered a technology called in vitro, which is a way of creating real meat in an artificial way. With this technology, if you take a muscle cell and give it the right ingredients for the muscle cell to develop into muscle tissue you can basically grow it outside of the human body or an animal body. In 2009, this was something I thought was very Sci-Fi but it turns out that only four years after my research they have already created a hamburger using this technology. I wanted to use this in vitro technology to find a more environmental way to create real meat.
My concept was originally called Meat Machine but I changed the name to Cocoon because I wanted to visualize this technology within an appliance that you could have in your home that would be as natural as having a microwave. Using this machine to grow meat in your kitchen is actually something quite creepy and quite alien so with this machine I wanted to create a design that was friendly and inviting and this explains the nice round shape, the semi-transparent glass and the blue colour. I also tried to reference Swedish design heritage and create a link with the Swedish art-glass industry. I wanted it to be as simple and as intuitive as possible.
How much support did you get from the Electrolux team throughout the process?
After I entered my design, Electrolux created a shortlist of 25 designs and then this was cut down to eight of us who went into the final. It was at this point that Electrolux brought in a company to create renderings and we worked with Materialise from Belgium to build a model of our designs.
What was the hardest part of the Electrolux Design Lab process?
I would say the most difficult thing was to choose one idea that you think will be the best and you really need to go with your gut here. It was also hard for me once I won the competition as I was exposed to so much media. I was doing TV interviews, magazine interviews, I was on radio shows all around the world and I was featured on lots of blogs. I had 3 hits on Google before winning and within 2 days of winning I had 50,000. At first this was a little frightening but now I actually miss it a little. I’m now far more confident and it really helped me to develop my presentation skills and my rhetorical skills, not only during the Design Lab but also after.
What did it mean to you to win and to be awarded a six month internship with Electrolux?
I was living in Malmo when I won Design Lab so I had to move to Stockholm for my internship. I started by getting to know the people who worked in the studio, by getting to know Electrolux as a brand, which is always developing and changing so it was a really interesting time. When I started there weren’t so many people in the office but I have been part of a period of amazing growth and development at the company. During my internship I did a variety of projects but I also did one main project that extended throughout my whole internship. The project was called Noir and it was a compact dishwasher for compact spaces.
How do you think Electrolux Design Lab affected your early career?
I think it would have been really hard to get a job with Electrolux if I hadn’t won Design Lab, so I’m really happy that I got the job when I did. Back in 2009, when the recession hit, it really affected the industry and many of my friends from school struggled to get jobs. From 30 people in my class, I think that only three managed to work in a design-related job, the rest had to find other work. I was really lucky to work with Electrolux and it was so beneficial for me as I got to meet a lot of people and learn from others.
What advice would you give to students and recent graduates who are still contemplating submitting an entry this year?
Design Lab is a competition that you should definitely consider entering, especially if you are in your third or fourth year of studies when you feel confident that you can handle the media exposure that is involved in this kind of event.
You should see Electrolux Design Lab as a platform that enables you to show a lot of people around the world what you are good at and what you think is important.
Design Lab can be a great short cut to getting a job with a lot of possibilities to develop fast. It is an interesting experience and I do not know how else you would be able to get the same experience. Even though I won four years ago, I still get to talk to people now about my involvement in Design Lab and many people still recognise me from the publicity that surrounded the event.
You should enter because you have a lot to win and nothing to lose!
What are your top tips for getting through to the finals and scooping the top prize?
Don’t spend too much time worrying about the technology behind your design. You need to know that in theory it could work, but try to spend more time on the design execution otherwise it will become a hindrance later on in the process. However, the technology can also enable you to make good decisions and can give you design cues so it goes both ways.
It is really important that have a good basic idea that has substance and relevance and that inspires you to develop it further. It also needs to solve a problem.
You need to be smart in the way you think. You need to think about what other people may submit and then decide in what way you can be different.
Don’t fall in love with technology for technology’s sake.
What do you most like about working at Electrolux now?
I am part of an interesting phase at Electrolux and there is a lot of focus on design right now. I like what we do and I like the people working there. It is a friendly, open and super nice environment where you meet and learn from people from all around the world and this provides a really a rich communication and collaboration.