“As long as it doesn’t look like a f***ing spaceship”

The Kitchen of the Future
Millennials have their own ideas about what a kitchen should look like, what it can perform, and what you can do in it. We were hired by a major manufacturer of kitchen appliances to go in search of the kitchen of the future.

For a long time it seemed that kitchens came in different price ranges, but not really in different types. Built-in or fitted kitchens were essentially the standard for the middle class. The kitchen was then progressively filled up with more and more built-in appliances, depending on what people could afford, ranging from dishwashers to steamers. Those with sufficient space and means could go all-out, installing an island with Teppanyaki grill plate.

These paradigms have been shifting in the past two decades, and now millennials are rethinking the kitchen altogether along with everything that takes place in it. For many 18 to 34-year-olds, the ‘three squares a day’ rule is as outdated as the heavy meals prescribed in their parents’ cookbooks. Once a side dish, vegetables have taken over as the main course for many, and cooking is now as much the primary event for together-time as the meal itself is.

These lifestyle changes are giving rise to new demands regarding kitchen architecture and appliances. STURM und DRANG was tasked with identifying these demands and deriving action recommendations for a leading kitchen appliance manufacturer. Our aim was to find out what millennials think about cooking, what their needs are, and above all answer the question of what makes a good kitchen appliance today.

Is it one that you like and often use?
One you can be proud of?

The study was conducted to form the basis for the creation of new and innovative products and for improving existing ones.

Changing contexts

The way kitchens are used and perceived today is influenced by a number of trends extending well beyond nutrition. Minimalism, for example, is a major trend right now across many areas, including kitchens. People are into decluttering as part of a ‘less is more’ philosophy. In the popular Netflix show Clean Up with Marie Kondo, people scrupulously get rid of any possessions they don’t need or which don’t make them happy.

Millennials have a particular affinity for focusing on the essentials, detesting cabinets full of unused equipment, trays and tools—which dovetails with the ongoing sustainability megatrend. Plastic has come under increasing fire in recent years, leading some consumers to spearhead no-packaging shopping, demand shampoos free of microplastic and instigate other changes. In the 18-34 age group there are but few willing to be seen as part of a throw-away culture.

Our research was generally informed by awareness of these and other trends, but as always the key is to actually sit down with young people at the kitchen table if you want to know what motivates them. Thus to explore millennials’ attitudes toward kitchens we gathered an online community of 30 young people from Copenhagen, Berlin and London for them to share their cooking and eating habits and for us to learn about their day-to-day lives in the kitchen. We also visited the community members at their homes, standing beside them at the stove to find out first-hand about the habits, pain points and desires of these key consumers.

This injected a critical real-life element into our examination of larger societal trends, yielding such insights as how young people cook when they have friends over and one is vegan, another gluten-free and a third person dairy-free? What all goes on in the kitchens of the apartments they live in and share? Just cooking and eating? More likely, the kitchen has become a multi-functional space where people talk and work between meals. But what appliances do these young people prefer? Which ones lay dusty and unused in the far corner of the cabinet?

In this study, the importance of one of the main principles behind our research was reconfirmed: that generations do not represent homogeneous groups. For no one individual can speak for his or her generation. There are always various currents however, which are best conceived of as general attitudes. The next step was thus to compile the findings from the community, interviews with lead users and our field observations in order to trace the contours of the prevalent ‘millennial mindsets’.

This led for example to the identification of ‘considerates’, a group of individuals characterized by attaching particular importance to health and well-being. These people eat organic products, tend toward vegetarianism and strive for control over what they consume. Their behaviors substantially contrast with ‘nowists’, a mindset group who are turned off by too much controlling. These individuals are always on the lookout for something new and they focus their lives on enjoyment. One can naturally imagine how different the kitchens of people with these respective mindsets could be, as well as their cooking and eating habits.

The study yielded four relevant millennial mindsets which we were able to delineate in sufficient detail, drawing upon our research, to function as a strategic springboard for further exploration.

What might the kitchen of the future look like?

Proceeding a step further, we worked with our users to jointly map out desirable future scenarios for the evolution of the kitchen. We wanted to know what the ideal kitchen of the future would look like from the perspectives of individuals with the respective mindsets. And to find out what elements are absolutely essential to a good kitchen. What things can be eliminated, and most importantly, what new elements will be added? What kind of appliance would be a welcome invention, and what new usage possibilities should there be?

‘Considerates’ want to be able to grow their own vegetables, even without a garden, and are interested in innovative ways to avoid waste, including particularly new approaches to storage that do without plastic containers and ways to increase energy efficiency. Product innovations took shape while working out these visions, and more contemporary purchasing and service models were discussed as well within this framework.

Sometimes pie-in-the-sky is not too far away from actual innovation

STURM und DRANG translated the future scenarios developed into opportunities for concrete product innovations realizable in the longer term, if not the short term already. Certain questions were taken as guide rails to steer development efforts in a productive direction, including:

How can we create devices of
the greatest functionality
which still permit emotional
connection and create
sensual moments?

How can we create truly
timeless products which will
accompany our customers
throughout their lives?

How can we actively support
new nutritional concepts?

Human-centric research put us a major step closer to the knowing the parameters of the kitchen of the future. Close enough to become aware that in any case there will not be ‘the’ kitchen of the future per se, but rather individual multi-functional spaces adapted to the unique needs of users and residents. While these kitchens are not yet being ‘served up’, the study STURM und DRANG wrote the definitive recipe.