General Electric’s design team was tasked with creating the next generation of home fridges. But how might they innovate in a category where little had changed since the 1960s?
The US appliance manufacturer knew the answer was not going to come from doing the same things better. They partnered with Sense Worldwide and collaborated with The Sense Network, to help reframe the future of everything refrigeration.
‘The Opal Nugget Ice Maker’ was released in 2016 to positive reviews. It was praised for its ability to make large quantities of chewable ice on demand. PCMag said, “It makes perfect ice“. The ideation process and product creation were so revolutionary that Alicia Clegg of The Financial Times wrote about it here.
This was the first product GE launched through its FirstBuild Initiative on Indiegogo. The reception was incredible. Consumers pledged $2.7million (putting it in indiegogo’s top 10 projects of the year). ‘The Opal Nugget Ice Maker’ sales were so successful that version 2.0 was released in 2019 to even better reviews. The star of the show was of course still the chewable ice.
Focus groups with mainstream consumers were never going to deliver the breakthrough thinking the business wanted. The GE design team needed to deliver a truly breakthrough product. They needed radical innovation to meet the needs of its future consumers and earn its place in their homes.
Radical ideas need radical users. We investigated American life far beyond the kitchen. We wanted to understand how people interacted with anything that dispensed, from a waiter to a one-armed bandit. We went out looking for people who could give us clues about the future needs of mainstream consumers.
We engaged members of The Sense Network who had a special relationship with water, ice and culinary technologies. This included a high-profile cocktail mixologist (who gets his ice from arctic lakes), a water sommelier and a culinary scientist who ‘prints’ food. One such collaborator was chef de cuisine at The Aviary in Chicago. He had strong opinions about ice. He railed against domestic freezers that churn out “terrible little uniform cubes”. He demanded crystal clear ice. His solution? Use a vibrator to shake out the air bubbles as the water froze.
We brought extreme users together with appliance designers to co-create a broad range of product ideas. From next year’s model to gadgets straight out of science fiction.
It makes perfect ice.
John R. Delaney, PCMag