The Flow of In­no­va­tion

GROHE, a 100-year-old in­dus­try leader in plumb­ing fix­tures, is re­design­ing how we ex­pe­ri­ence wa­ter—the fi­nal fron­tier in smart-home tech­nol­ogy.

Fast Company - - Innovation By Design - By Fastco.works

WWhen it comes to high-tech home in­no­va­tion, tele­vi­sions and sound sys­tems get the lion’s share of at­ten­tion. But the lat­est smart-home tech­nol­ogy fo­cuses on reimag­in­ing ev­ery­day ob­jects, such as show­ers and faucets. The key to re­think­ing how we ex­pe­ri­ence wa­ter at home isn’t only about in­cor­po­rat­ing dig­i­tal bells and whis­tles. As GROHE, the 100-year-old cut­ting-edge Ger­man wa­ter-fix­ture provider, il­lus­trates, the most suc­cess­ful so­lu­tions are rooted in in­tu­itive, user-friendly de­sign. Here, MICHAEL SEUM, GROHE’S vice pres­i­dent of de­sign, shares the think­ing be­hind its award-win­ning de­signs, such as the new Smart­con­trol Shower Sys­tem, and how to cre­ate prod­ucts that change be­hav­ior in pos­i­tive ways.

What’s espe­cially chal­leng­ing about re­think­ing an ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ence like the shower?

Wa­ter is ana­log. It’s one of the last fron­tiers of the smart home that hasn’t been in­jected with any in­tel­li­gence. So we see an op­por­tu­nity to bring wa­ter into the 21st cen­tury. We’re not just de­sign­ing the next good-look­ing shower sys­tem. But it’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause the bath is one of those ar­eas where con­sumers are emo­tion­ally in­vested. The same is true of the kitchen. When some­one de­cides to ren­o­vate those rooms, they put a lot of care into it be­cause they know they’ll be us­ing them daily.

What was the start­ing point for the Smart­con­trol Shower Sys­tem? The ini­tial de­sign goal?

We wanted to per­son­al­ize the shower ex­pe­ri­ence. So we didn’t just cre­ate a new show­er­head. We cre­ated a whole shower sys­tem based on a unique valve tech­nol­ogy, one that al­lows you to choose the out­let, flow, and tem­per­a­ture all in­de­pen­dently of each other. There’s no other ex­pe­ri­ence like it in the world. Think about what it’s like when you walk into a ho­tel bath­room. You have no idea which con­trol does what. But Smart­con­trol is in­tu­itive. It has sim­ple icons: one for tem­per­a­ture and an in­de­pen­dent con­trol for man­ag­ing wa­ter vol­ume and flow. That al­lows you to have a re­ally dy­namic ex­pe­ri­ence, whether you want a strong, pow­er­ful rinse or a soft, re­lax­ing stream—all at a con­sis­tent, pre­cise tem­per­a­ture. The next evo­lu­tion will be in even deeper per­son­al­iza­tion, like a cus­tom shower pro­file that knows who you are when you walk into your shower.

A shower sys­tem is a new con­cept for con­sumers. How do you ed­u­cate them?

We de­liver prod­ucts, but we de­sign to­tal con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ences, whether that’s in the show­room, the bath­room, or on a dig­i­tal ap­pli­ca­tion. Take in­stal­la­tion. A lot of our com­peti­tors don’t con­sider the com­plex­i­ties the plumber en­coun­ters, but we’ve gone to great lengths to make Smart­con­trol sim­ple to in­stall. Ul­ti­mately, that makes for a bet­ter over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. The con­sumer loves the show­er­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and it’s easy to add to their home. That’s for­ward-think­ing de­sign.

GROHE is known for be­ing de­sign driven. How would you de­scribe its de­sign strat­egy?

De­sign has the unique abil­ity to vi­su­al­ize strat­egy, and un­like any other func­tion of the com­pany, we can bring a story to life. That’s why we be­lieve in de­sign do­ing. We’re be­yond styling. I look for de­sign­ers who want to craft a point of view and make prod­ucts that make a dif­fer­ence. We’re ob­ses­sive with pro­to­typ­ing. If we don’t get it right the first time, we make another one. We have de­sign val­ues that I lit­er­ally hold the de­sign team hostage to: Is it easy to use? Is it hu­man? Does it con­vey per­for­mance? Our com­mit­ment to con­sumer­fo­cused de­sign ex­pe­ri­ences has driven our suc­cess.

What other con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ences are you fo­cused on re­design­ing?

Look at how bad plas­tic is for the en­vi­ron­ment and how in­ef­fi­cient bot­tled wa­ter is. It takes seven liters of wa­ter to pro­duce one liter of drink­able bot­tled wa­ter. So we cre­ated a prod­uct called GROHE Blue that has a chiller, a fil­ter, and a car­bon­a­tor un­der the counter. It elim­i­nates the need for plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles and de­liv­ers per­fectly chilled, lightly sparkling or full sparkling wa­ter. The fu­ture is about chang­ing our re­la­tion­ship with wa­ter, this ex­tremely pre­cious re­source. Well-de­signed prod­ucts help you do that. This story was cre­ated with and com­mis­sioned by GROHE.

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