IDSA Members Rethink the Refrigerator

Sustainability and User Experience Play Greater Roles in ID

IDSA members are part of a Rochester Institute of Technology team that’s collaborating with GE Appliances on a project to enhance sustainability and user experience. “You can have a very efficient product, but if it’s used in an inefficient way, then many of the benefits are gone,” says Associate Professor Alex Lobos, IDSA, who's also serving as a juror on the IDSA International Design Excellence Awards 2017.

GE is trying to change the way we use an appliance that’s remained mostly the same for almost 100 years—the refrigerator. And it’s getting a helping hand from industrial design students at RIT, including Lobos, and IDSA Student Member Behrad Ghodsi. “Sustainable behavior comes into play,” says Lobos, graduate director of RIT’s industrial design program and faculty advisor to IDSA’s Student Chapter. “For industrial designers, that’s a way of looking at making better emotional connections between users and their products.”

Ghodsi and two other students came up with a concept system featuring four customizable compartments with individual climate controls. On a daily basis, a consumer may need to use only two of the compartments. Each has its own temperature settings, so one can serve as a refrigerator and the second as a freezer. When more space is needed, the third and fourth compartments can become refrigerator or freezer space. When not in use, they can be turned off to save energy and used as cabinet shelving for bakeware, cookware or kitchen gadgets.

“As industrial designers, we look at manufacturing as a way to make sure that our ideas can be produced and that they can be fabricated,” says Lobos. “It doesn’t matter if you have great dreams of how a product might change someone’s life. If you are not able to make that product, and make it at a reasonable price or quality, then that idea is not good.”

Lobos, who worked for GE and Whirlpool as an industrial designer before joining RIT, has seen the industry change into one that demands more skills and knowledge from its industrial designers about manufacturing, sustainability, circular economy, materials and interaction design.