Founded in 1996, Ningbo Fotile Kitchenware Co., Ltd has been dedicated to creating newer and better kitchen and lifestyle for people through the development of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, safe and convenient kitchen appliances. In 2009, Fotile set its development strategy as “Premium, Professional, Multi-brand”. Currently, Fotile owns three brands – Fotile, Miboi and Borcci, with a focus on built-in kitchen appliance, water heater and integrated kitchen business respectively.
With intensifying competition in both global and local markets, Fotile needed to secure its position as a leading kitchenware manufacturer. In the hope to elevate the brand, Fotile approached IDEO to develop a unique design language and product offerings for its high-end kitchenware products.
IDEO and Fotile gained deep understanding of the cooking needs of Chinese consumers. The project team visited four typical cities in China. They spoke, cooked and cleaned kitchens with consumers. In addition, they conducted shop-alongs with people who were decorating their home at that time. Among these consumers, there were single people, newly married couples and elderly people who took care of their grandchildren. By interacting with these people, the team uncovered many meaningful findings.
For enthusiasts, cooking is a form of art and a way to express one’s feelings. Some people think cooking requires creativity, and they will cook for themselves and friends if time allows. Others cook to show love for their family, and they would prepare lunch boxes for their children to take to company on working days. And others cook during holidays to treat their relatives and friends.
However, not everyone loves cooking. Some people cook only because they need to eat as well, but they often feel too tired to enjoy the meal after cooking for the family. Interestingly, all of them are deeply skeptical about the notion of “high-tech kitchen”. They believe only masters can cook tasty meals. Chinese people have been cooking dishes over burners for hundreds of years. Out of respect for the Chinese tradition, the “home makers” prefer to use domestic brands in their kitchen as much as possible, and some special needs have emerged around Chinese cooking, which requires certain kitchenware products to address.
Based on these deep insights, IDEO designers developed these design principles for Fotile: kitchenware products should fit into how users want to demonstrate their cooking skills, increase the delight during cooking; and strengthen Fotile’s advantage in the local market. The four concepts derived from these principles speak to key user needs. The product offerings include range hood, cook top, sterilizer, microwave oven and oven. These products not only communicate the philosophy of pursuing high quality, but also reflect the unique features tailored to the Chinese market. The range hood design addresses the fume problem during Chinese cooking. The wok burner has a special stand with angled posts to hold steady a round-bottomed wok (typical in China). Its simplistic design emphasizes the importance of heat and celebrates Fotile’s advanced burner technology. The stainless steel material makes Fotile products look more differentiated in style, as well as professional and reliable – two core attributes of Fotile brand. It’s worth noting that all the design looks less technical and makes it more convenient and interesting to use.
The deliverables of the project included look-like prototypes, renderings and the final CAD database. It not only took into consideration manufacturing factors, but also provided a guidebook to help Fotile understand how to apply the new design language to other products.
Fotile implemented two concepts designed by IDEO into the O-Touch series of 6-pack built-in kitchen appliances as well as Zong Chu Liu Xi series.
The O-Touch series not only introduced built-in steamers into Chinese people’s kitchen for the first time, but also disrupted the kitchen appliance industry with its fashionable touch screen technology. The two products – cook top and sterilizer – won a 2010 Red Dot Award.
The Zong Chu Liu Xi series won a 2011 Red Dot Award for its two-burner range design and its capability to balance between Chinese and western kitchen styles.