Friday, May 1, 2009
K-STATE PROFESSOR BRIGHTENS WASHDAY WITH HIS DESIGN FOR A MACHINE OF MANY COLORS
MANHATTAN -- What's new and colorful and designed to occupy the middle-income appliance market bounded by Kenmore and Maytag?
It's a line of washing machines from LG, resplendent in blue, red, green, stainless steel, and one proprietary color, Home Depot Orange. The designer is Sung-soo "Cliff" Shin, a Kansas State University assistant professor of interior architecture and product design. The modernistic washer he helped develop is on sale at Best Buy, Sears and, of course, Home Depot.
Shin teaches product design and brings his professional design experience at LG Headquarters Design Center in Seoul, Korea, to his second-year design studio.
The students are designing their first project now -- a faucet for the middle-income home with a target price range of $300-$600. Their next assignment for Shin will be a hand-held device for a technology of the future.
"I want them to research and explore a whole new possibility for products we don't even have now," Shin said. "I tell my students the challenge of designing for the middle class is to satisfy both design and price tag. That market is the toughest one to crack. Middle-income consumers are well educated, they know what they want, and they want to save money. They can drive designers crazy."
In terms of aesthetics, a successful product has to be eye-catching. "Bad design is obvious," Shin said. "If you're in a hotel and have to spend a lot of time figuring out how the bath or shower works, that's an example of bad design."
Achieving good design goes well beyond just having a good idea. Designing involves a wide range of challenges, Shin said. Obviously, a designer has to know materials, consider product safety and functionality, and grasp the manufacturing process involved and engineering limitations.
As important, Shin said, a designer has to pay particular attention to the lifestyle of the target buyers and be aware of human factors and human behavior.
"Design is so much about human psychology. From wristwatches to washing machines, consumers make statements about themselves in their purchases," he said.
At the LG Headquarters Design Center, Shin was senior designer in charge of creating the new washing machine's front control panel, and he recommended the color, midnight blue, a critical feature because LG was reintroducing color to the world of household appliances after the post-70s' era of white-only washers.
Even though the previous model was selling well, LG had some consumer feedback that the machines had too many buttons and lights, so the company decided to create a new machine, Shin said.
"The controls seemed kind of scary for some housewives, intimidating or confusing," he said. "I tried to simplify the buttons and lights and improve the machine's overall aesthetic."
His goal was to design a washing machine consistent in its aesthetic with products popular with the middle-income North American target market.
The first big test of the new design was to render it on paper and ask teams of housewives to respond to questions like how to power it on and how to use the machine. Some figure it out right away, while others are just lost, Shin said.
"Whenever we have struggling people, we take notes about the problem, modify the design accordingly, and then get the reactions of another panel of housewives," he said.
The next consideration is determining if the design look good in probable locations, such as the kitchen, utility room or garage. Finally, a real machine is built and the user interface is put to the test.
"On the paper design, the buttons looked pretty good, but in reality, a button might be too big, for example," Shin said.
If so, it has to be changed. That is everyday life for a household product designer, according to Shin. From the curve of a decorative line, the size of the buttons, their placement, or the typeface, everything is tested this way. A required change to one element often means scrapping the whole design, if the aesthetic is compromised by the change, he said.
"You can't put a Ford Taurus side mirror on a Mercedes," Shin said. "A mirror seems like a tiny detail, but it would ruin the feeling of the overall Mercedes design. It's the same principle with buttons on a washer."
In addition to the LG washing machine, Shin has designed concept LCD monitors and concept vacuum cleaners. His heart, though, belongs to the design of smaller everyday items. "I like small housewares like salt shakers and I see so much potential for their improvement," he said. "Problem-solving and improving the design aesthetic -- that's what I want to do now and for the rest of my life."
Shin has degrees in manufacturing engineering technology from Arizona State University and industrial design from Purdue University.