The concept of a smart home requires tiny innovations in unexpected places. Lights that turn on upon verbal request, air conditioning that adjusts remotely—this is the ever-evolving world of the home, in which everything is designed to think a little bit. The results are oftentimes brilliant; sometimes unnecessary, but it seems that eventually, almost every appliance in our homes will have a computerized, internet-connected brain.
Yoon Lee has been working on smart products at Samsung for over a decade as a Senior Vice President overseeing the American wing of their Product Innovation Team or “PIT,” an internal tech team dedicated to brainstorming ideas reflective of users from their part of the world. The group is composed of 20 people with expertise ranging from product design to commercialization. Together they create experimental products that facilitate easier living through technology.
Lee is the type of person who looks smart and talks fast—a fusion of business savvy with designer know-how, summarized by his choice of glasses. “Studying the market is really powerful. Studying the consumer is very powerful,” he explains from Samsung’s Mountain View campus—where the West coast PIT operation is located. Lee and his team’s design methodology balances this consumer need with internal requests from business units. This affords his team a fluid means of making. “It’s more organic,” he says. “It’s not super-structured.” This is helpful in making items for the home, since it’s much slower creating washing machines and dishwashers—products that aren’t as disposable as cell phones.
“Mobile, you have to stay on top,” Lee says. “Home? It’s a lot more paced.” That pace affords large windows for experimenting, whittling down an idea to its functional core. “We don’t believe in complexity,” Lee laughs, hinting at Samsung’s love of functional dualities. (This is how you end up with a television that looks like framed artwork and washers and dryers that can do two modes at once.) Rather the brand leans toward less fussy efforts that seem simple and small but have huge impacts on day-to-day dealings with smart technology.
The most fascinating example of this is the Family Hub refrigerator. Now in its second generation, the Family Hub hopes to shift how you live and work in your kitchen by embedding a 1080p touchscreen onto a very customizable fridge door. The device can mirror video, time and articulate recipes, and access apps like Instacart to order food. One of the more novel features is an interior camera that offers glances inside your fridge. This may seem a little absurd, but is helpful when a user is grocery shopping but cannot remember if they have milk or not.
The Family Hub is also a great example of a product shaped by customer feedback. Using computerized sticky notes that sync between fridge and phone, Lee and his team found during testing that children who were too young for cell phones were communicating with parents via the fridge. “That was a pleasant surprise to find,” Lee says. “It solidifies that the fixed screen refrigerator is a real benefit. It’s a real interaction point that people feel secure about.” With plenty of connected apps, The Family Hub allows users to plan meals, coordinate schedules, doodle notes, create expiration reminders for items, plus (of course) alter temperatures and set timers. All of this is possible thanks to Lee and his team chipping away at user interaction in the hopes of bringing the future home. “It’s about the right experience,” Lee smiles. “Instead of the novelty of the concept.”
The Samsung Refrigerator with Family Hub is available in five different sizes.
Images courtesy of Samsung