Fisher and Paykel: Designing difference

Fisher & Paykel Appliances faced a big challenge. Theirs was a highly successful brand name at home, but on the global stage its iconic New Zealand reputation stood for little.

Making an appliance that was desirable was more than an indulgence; it was a necessity if the products were to make their way into high net worth homes.

Fisher & Paykel Appliances turned a need to change into a want to change.

The company needed a reason - a clear point of difference - for American or Japanese families to head straight for Fisher & Paykel Appliances on the showroom floor.

They also needed Fisher & Paykel Appliances to appear on the showroom floors in countries from which it was conspicuously absent, in particular the UK and in Europe.

Compounding this challenge was increasing price-based competition from market newcomers, especially Korea, and the global trend towards outsourcing manufacture to low-wage countries.

To compete, Fisher & Paykel Appliances needed to change the rules of the game.

Against the backdrop of these commercial threats, the company saw an opportunity. It was an opportunity to change their emphasis and put design on the agenda.

Their goal was to make design a key point of difference. But more than skin deep, they wanted them to look different as a result of their products being very different, from the inside out.

For Fisher & Paykel Appliances, there was no better example of creating customer value with design than the Dish Drawer.

The insights

Meet like with like

A fundamental change in the market demands an equally fundamental response. The scale of the change in the global appliance market was such that Fisher & Paykel Appliances would not have adequately addressed it by incremental change.

Consumers don't know what they want till they've got it

The DishDrawer was built on a mixture of customer insight and good common sense, rather than reliance on consumer focus groups. Fisher & Paykel Appliances knew it would work - their challenge was to develop the technology to allow it to work. Only once the capability was developed to be able to prototype the DishDrawer was it time to extensively test it on the hearts and minds of consumers.

Cross-fertilise ideas

The idea behind the DishDrawer came not by looking at dishwashers but by examining the way people used their kitchen. In doing so they took inspiration from an unrelated kitchen function - the drawer - and created a hybrid between the two.

See opportunities in product development inertia

Where a product category's characteristics have changed little over a considerable period of time, this is generally an opportunity. If the Fisher & Paykel Appliances experience is any guide, it is likely that the lack of change is not due to there being no other way of doing it, but because people haven't asked the right questions or demanded something better. Fisher & Paykel Appliances knew this only too well; they had been making dishwashers themselves for many years.

Consider the broader environment

Internationally, people are placing more store by the design of their kitchens and by extension their appliances, than before. Therefore making an appliance that was desirable was more than an indulgence; it was a necessity if the products were to make their way into high net worth homes. In designing the DishDrawer, Fisher & Paykel Appliances gave as much thought to the environment in which it would work as to the product itself. As a result, its functionality and fit with the kitchen is the key.

Designing the difference

Fisher & Paykel Appliances said the dishwasher needn't be a dishwasher, it could be a drawer that washes dishes.

In developing the DishDrawer, Fisher & Paykel Appliances did more than redesign the dishwasher; they redefined the way people saw the washing of dishes.

Running the dishwasher was once an 'event' - something that happened only when you had enough dishes to fill the rather large space. As such, the dishwasher was still dictating terms, despite it having been invented to give humans more control.

The Fisher & Paykel Appliances design team envisaged an appliance that was considerably more in tune with human needs and with the way that humans were living their lives. Smaller families, fewer dwellers per household and the demise of three-square-meals-per-day are just some of the changes with which traditional washers had lost touch.

The DishDrawer was designed to make the dishwasher, an extension of the storage systems in the kitchen - a drawer that keeps your dishes clean.

The design team's brief was to create a dishwasher which made considerably better use of space, gave easier access, allowed for smaller loads, used less water and detergent, was easier to open and had greater visibility.

That's long-hand for seeking a revolution in the kitchen.

Industrial designer Phil Brace sums it up like this; "Fundamentally they (dishwashers per se) were awful - we decided to design a good one."

The Insights

You can't get too close to customers

The design team spent time in people's homes studying them using their appliances. Says Industrial Design Manager Mark Elmore: "If you ask people what their problems are, they'll tell you what they think they are. But if you watch them you realise there are other problems that they've learned to work around. They've got used to the way they do things, so you need to look underneath their stated needs."

Live and breathe your brand

Fisher & Paykel Appliances has its own labs where design teams cook, clean and wash to gain an insight into how people work in the kitchen. Products are also sent out to be tested in sites such as commercial kitchens, large family homes and design team members' own homes. "If it rattles and bangs we soon hear about it," says industrial designer Phil Brace “It gets seen to straight away."

Time your feasibility study

Although feasibility studies are critical to the Fisher & Paykel Appliances design and development process, the design team is careful to rely on intuition as far into the process as practicable. Mark Elmore: "Early on, ideas are very fragile and it's easy to talk yourself out of a design. You need directors who say "the numbers don't quite stack up at this stage, but it's the right thing to do."

Don't leave the technology till last

While Fisher & Paykel Appliances encourage intuition in the development of ideas, they also ensure that where intuition involves a concept that may require new technology, the viability of the technology is assessed at an early stage. In other words, there's a close relationship between insight and the technology that enables it. Elmore: "The idea might make a lot of sense but it won't work unless we can come up with the technical solution". Perhaps the best example of this was the need to develop a motor and pump for the Dish Drawer that was not more than 70 mm high.

The design dividend

By revolutionising dishwashing in a range of areas, Fisher & Paykel Appliances have put distance between itself and its competitors on a number of fronts.

The Dish Drawer has done four remarkable things for Fisher & Paykel Appliances.

It has been a platform for entering the UK, European and the Middle Eastern markets. Previously, Fisher & Paykel Appliances exported solely to Australia, Asia, the Pacific and the US. It has helped position Fisher & Paykel Appliances as innovative across its broader range of products and has helped maintain market share in its home market which was under considerable pressure from imported goods.

The company's revenue from appliances increased from $500 million in the 1997/1998 financial year to $853 million for 2003/2004, and 150 additional staff have been added for DishDrawer development and production alone.

Perhaps most markedly, the operating profit before interest and tax for appliances has leapt from $11.5 million in the 1997/1998 financial year to $102 million for 2003/2004.

This bottom line increase is significantly greater than the increase in the total number of units produced, due in large part to the price premium products such as the DishDrawer command.

With 19 patents in 27 countries, the DishDrawer's uniqueness continues to be a strong competitive advantage. This, however, is not a reason for Fisher and Paykel Appliances to limit their innovation - the DishDrawer is undergoing constant re-evaluation as they strive to improve the product further.

The Insights

Use your leading brand to open new markets

The DishDrawer has been the sharp edge of a wedge that has driven the Fisher and Paykel Appliances name into key new markets, and positioned it at the top end of the lucrative US market.

Make your distributors your mouthpiece and feedback mechanisms

Fisher & Paykel Appliances invest heavily in their relationships with distributors and retailers through training, education and communications. The distributors are also a critical feedback mechanism about product attributes and performance. This feedback has become increasingly valuable as the number of export destinations has grown. As the brand has expanded geographically, this strong and direct connection with distributors is a means of getting to understand the differing needs of each market.

Value and protect your points of difference

Fisher & Paykel Appliances guard the competitive advantage that its patents provide with considerable jealousy. The DishDrawer is heavily patent-protected in 27 countries which gives them considerable protection against imitation.

Put the power in your customers hands

By enabling customers to choose between single and double DishDrawer variants, Fisher & Paykel Appliances is able to provide customers with not only brand choice, but a new category variant that allows them greater freedom in the design of their kitchens.

Don't settle for a one dimensional change

In developing the DishDrawer, Fisher & Paykel Appliances made several quite distinct and simultaneous breakthroughs. Rather than simply saying they wanted to make it easier, they also said they wanted to make it more space efficient, more energy efficient and ecologically sensitive. Each additional benefit has put more distance between itself and any competitor.

The design process

No two businesses approach the design process in exactly the same way. What they do share, however, is a structure that ensures the right people are engaged at the right time, and that responsibilities for specific outcomes are clear at each step.