Students from leading schools of design in nine countries competed to create the most outstanding new appliance concept.

The Electrolux brief for the competition, now in its second year, was to “design products for a daring but not too distant future of 2015”. The designs were to “make life easier and more enjoyable”.

The Rockpool was designed by three University of New South Wales students and was based on consumers’ concern for water use and lifestyle convenience.

According to the local judging panel of Lars Erikson, Sydney based Electrolux design director, architect Ian Moore, designer Mark Armstrong, and deputy director of the Powerhouse Museum, Jennifer Sanders, the Rockpool dishwasher was chosen because the concept had strong ergonomic benefits, and was in line with Electrolux’s pro-environmental policy.

Douglas Nash, who worked with two other third-year industrial design students, Oystein Lie and Ross Nicholls, explains the process behind the concept:

From the outset we chose to address the area of dish-washing, as we thought it had been a very stagnant product category for years and the basic format of the drawer and cupboard analogy is still the dominant typology. We were driven by the notion that there had to be a better solution, or at least some room for reinterpretation. 

The university project was conducted in three rounds.  First there was ‘consumer insight’, which was aimed at getting everyone to go out and engage with the problems, issues and attitudes of the target market through primary research.

The second was individual ‘conceptual exploration’ of the chosen product genre. Thirdly, there was the ‘synthesis’ where we came together as a team to sort through our ideas and create a cohesive solution. 

The consumer research was useful in discovering the attitudes of people to their dishwashers, and useability issues associated with the current format.

This provided us with several core issues that informed much of our design process. These were, the guilty feeling associated with wasting water by frivolous washing; the unsavoury task of loading and unloading the dishwasher; the premium of kitchen space (especially in apartment living) and the desire to integrate the dishwasher into the overall kitchen design.

Initially in our individual concept work we tended to focus on the pragmatic issues of space efficiency, and better ways of loading and unloading the dishwasher, using fairly conservative and contemporary technology.

Some of the concepts from this stage were modular systems that could be configured in various sizes to suit different kitchens; fold down dishwashers that took very little space and dishwashers that utilised the sink cavity as well as many other iterations.

We felt we had to do something outside the box and decided to move away from the simple innovative approach to a more ‘blue sky’ position.

We left what we thought other international entrants would be good at (such as industrial, minimalist, space efficient design) due to their style of living, and started to think in terms of a very Australian scenario.

These issues included big family space, outdoor living, open plan homes and the bridging of cooking and family space, as well as indoors and outdoors and of course, water efficiency.  

We ran through a whole bunch of crazy ideas, such as a picnic set dishwasher, a landscaped kitchen sink and dishwasher combo, a recycling and water filtering feature dishwasher, transparent dishwashers and the list goes on...

Then we finally found a very optimistic but promising technology that we started to work a design around – Supercritical CO2 cleaning technology. 

Most of our idea development was on paper or modelling on the computer, however as we got into the development of the Rockpool concept we moved into full-scale drawings, and 3D foam modelling. 

Almost from the point of abandoning the simpler pragmatic issues of clever packaging of the dishwasher, we were always looking at our designs from the view, that if we had to live with one of our designs how would we feel about it, and what sort of appeal would it have.

In this day and age, we should be able to solve the pragmatic issues associated with design very well. There is no excuse for poor ergonomics, function, or build quality.

We felt that given many aspects of a design are held constant then the one thing that will motivate us to consider one product over another (beyond brand and advertising) is if we can connect with a product, and if it resonates with us on a deeper level, something that most current dishwashers couldn’t be accused of doing. 

Rock pools in our mind are evocative, they are an entrancing and fascinating experience when we are young, as most of us in Australia tend to holiday by the beach if we don’t already live by the water, it’s an experience that most of us can relate to.

You only have to watch children staring into the depths of a rock pool to see what a captivating experience it can be. Literally I think that they are places of wonder, where there is always something happening, yet it is also an elusive world of its own. 

The stone control was arrived at as an extension of the rock pool metaphor. Just as a rock pool is formed by the agitation of a stone over many thousands of years, so ours is made purposeful by the stone. They are a reaction against the idea of a button for everything and an LCD screen to know what you’ve pushed.

Just because something is ‘high tech’‚ doesn’t mean that it needs to shout this through its interface. The true potential for technology, as Arthur C Clark put it, is for technology to become more and more “indistinguishable from magic, with every advance we make”.

The stone control concept is about interaction. The stones are the key to the intriguing nature of the concept, in that, beneath the dark surface of the pool there are these pulsing objects that look very enticing, and the act of responding to curiosity initiates the interactive experience.

It’s also very real, being enacted in three dimensions outside the limiting world of the two dimensional screen or linear button arrangement.

Reaching for the stone through the surface of the pool causes the glass surface of the pool to slide away revealing the stone, picking the stone up from the bottom of the pool causes the bottom to slide away, presenting the washing chamber, from which the rack rises up to bench height for loading.

Putting the stone into the shallow depression on the bench surface resets the mechanism so that picking it up again causes the rack to lower back into the washing chamber and the bottom of the pool to slide back over, sealing the washing chamber.

By placing the stone back into the bottom of the pool it will either wash or hold the load of washing, depending on which side is facing up toward the user.

The stones pulse rhythmically to communicate the activity of the wash cycle and then switch to a bright illumination when the load is ready to be removed.

Initiating the wash cycle will pump carbon dioxide from a storage cylinder through a pipe, to a heating unit where its temperature is raised to twenty-five degrees celsius (or room temperature).

It is then channelled to one of the two wash chambers where seventy-two atmospheres of pressure is applied. The carbon dioxide becomes a supercritical fluid, which has the properties of both a liquid and a gas. It flows over all of the surfaces lifting away grease and oil present and dissolving them into solution.

At the end of the twelve minute cycle, the pressure is evacuated forcing the carbon dioxide out of the washing chamber and into a separating unit where the gas distils out from the waste which is diverted to a grey water management system.

The carbon dioxide is then directed to a cooling unit before being returned to storage, for repeated use.

The Rockpool references the familiarity of water as a means for washing, and the illusion of the shallow pool is akin to a ‘natural’ basin. The absence of water illustrates the fact that the design is a waterless dishwasher, a completely foreign concept, so the idea of referencing it to something that was easily read seemed to make sense to us.

Configuring Rockpool into the surface of a kitchen bench was informed mainly through the observation that the majority of all kitchen tasks take place on the creative plane of the bench.

So much of the life and ritual of the kitchen is captured by the elements of the bench, sink, draining board, and cook top, as well as our other most utilised appliances such as the kettle, toaster, coffeemaker etc.

So why not bring dishwashing into line with the processes of domestic life instead of awkwardly placing it in a box under the bench that you have to bend down to load and fill with detergent?

The advantage of the technology also enables users to wash frequently and quickly without the guilt associated with wasting water and pumping effluent into the ocean, so cleaning is made a continuous and dynamic process more in keeping with the energy and creativity of the kitchen.  

The dual pond configuration was also born out of similar user insights, in that it enables staggering loads, not having to wait too long to fill one chamber, and not having to wash fine china or crystal with dirty pans or baked on lasagne.   

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