With consumer tabletop machines, we’re in the game of matching people’s tastes in kitchen units, and to some extent even in kettles and toasters. This means that a successful unit needs to appeal through form, materials, colour and interface design, by which I mean both the buttons and screens and the dispensing area.
One of the biggest design challenges with these products is the sheer amount of stuff that goes inside, leading to a format that wants to be as square as possible.
Curves reduce efficiency and need to be used sparingly. Of course, with people’s tastes so varied, it’s horses for (water) courses. I’ve seen a few units that follow similar design strategies.
Some have echoes of Bang & Olufsen and other minimalist hi-fi devices: a silver or black box with very few carefully placed controls.
One example that caught my eye was from Winix. The design delivers this proposition very well and I particularly like the display with an offset button that subliminally echoes water bubbles.
Again, I could make a hi-fi or car dashboard analogy: plenty of coloured LEDs and mouldings that ‘pump up the volume’. Having looked at several of the current offerings, I think the Bibo design does ‘gadget joy’ best, with its brightly cheerful fashion kitchen look.
As as designer, I think that head and shoulders above the others for me and perhaps even the ‘iPhone of water coolers’ is the Virgin Pure machine. Virgin doesn’t always get its designs this right, so I feel that partner Strauss Water should probably take the credit.
It manages to stay mostly square as it must, but also easily reminds the viewer of a water drop, even in Virgin Red (though other colours are available). The similarly drop-shaped chamber for standing the glass on adds refreshment and a spot of theatre. I want one!
Finally, the Waterlogic faucet design has to be mentioned because it breaks the mould in terms of the metaphor. No longer a boxy machine but simply an interface, it feels elegantly functional just looking at it, with its simple but informative display perfectly angled for a pleasurable operating experience.
Also, loving the ‘coaster’ for my glass, but of course it’s not quite a tabletop cooler but rather an under-sink option.
So, I’d take the Virgin machine, followed by the Waterlogic.
Steve Osborne is a partner at UK-based design and branding agency Osborne Pike. Claire Phoenix is FoodBev Media managing editor – magazines.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2017