Domestic appliance product family
Seppo Kaikkonen Eljas Perheentupa
Helkama Forste Oy Linja Design
This contribution discusses design in household appliance products in general
and one of Helkama Forste Oy's core products in particular: the freezers for
household use. These freezers are not a typical `design' product. Which doesn't
mean that design is unimportant to them. The project started in 1998, at the
same time as the collaboration between Helkama Forste Oy and designteam Linja
Helkama Forste Oy is a Finnish family business active in two major branches.
On the one hand, it is specialized in coolers and freezers for professional
use. Their second activity concerns the production of kitchen equipment for
household use, such as cooking-ranges and again coolers and freezers. Helkama
is one of Finland's 500 largest companies and still follows the views of the
founder of the Helkama Group, as laid down in 1905: `Businessmen should act
as society's servants, earning their living from being able to create something
new, something that is durable, of a high quality and that people need.' Their
major production unit is based in Finland, but Helkama Forste Oy also produces
in Norway, Hungary and Russia. The company is active in more than 40 countries.
Linja Design is an industrial design consultancy specialized in electronic
products and user interface design (watches, slot machines, video games, screen
graphics). Key clients are international market leaders in the sport equipment
industry and telecommunications. But Linja Design also collaborates with smaller
companies such as Helkama Forste Oy.
Household business in brief and the role of design
How is it to be a household appliance producer in Finland? Helkama is a small
producer in a sector in which a lot of production companies are being bought
up by international multinationals. Production figures rise all the time. Price
competition is getting harder and there are always new competitors waiting to
take a share of the market.
There's not a lot of technical differentiation in household business. That
is why design is an essential factor, even if the product is not a `design'
product. This means a company can follow two different strategies: either it
decides on mass production (selling a lot of items against a low price), or
it introduces products which distinguish themselves from their competitor's
products. As Helkama is a small company, differentiation is their only choice.
Design can also reinforce the brand name. People are often inclined to choose
for a visual unity in the kitchen (fridge, oven, microwave...). Through design,
Helkama can build up a `kitchen brand'. Originally the general public mainly
knew the company because of its coolers and freezers. Now the company uses this
core product for the development of a kitchen brand.
Finally, there is a third field in which design can play an important role:
usability. Design can find solutions for the habits of new consumers. For instance,
how should fridges be designed to meet the needs of a lifestyle in which other
drinks than just milk must be cooled or a lot of flat volumes should be stored?