Housewares Design Awards

2005 Best in Category: Major Appliances

Maytag Corp.

Maytag Neptune Drying Center

Well-designed products come from myriad sources of inspiration and encompass an array of design styles but ultimately have one thing in common; they meet a consumer need.

In the case of Maytag’s Neptune Drying Center the inspiration and design of the product came from the ultimate arbiters themselves, consumers. “In the late 1990’s Maytag conducted in-home ethnography research to tap into consumers laundry habits,” said Brent Freese, director of industrial design at Maytag. “With that research, we found that consumers were creating elaborate systems for doing their laundry.”

Fearing the potential for shrinkage caused by a tumble in the dryer, consumers were finding unique and creative ways to dry their clothes, most often by hanging them in various places throughout their homes. According to Freese, this creativity included, “drying racks of sweaters and dress slacks in the basement, nylon stockings in the bathroom.”

Identifying the need was only part of the challenge. Designing and constructing a product that could provide the utility consumers sought in an appliance considerably smaller than the average basement or bathroom was another task entirely. According to Freese, one of the challenges the company had to overcome was giving consumers the ability to dry a wide variety of garments.

“From our research we know consumers wanted the option of combining hang-drying and flat drying simultaneously,” Freese said. “Modularity had to be incorporated.”

Engineering product of the versatility, size and complexity of the Neptune Drying Center was no easy task, and the company incorporated a number of features. The unit has the same size footprint as a standard dryer, which is incorporated below the new drying cabinet design. Independent controls for the top drying cabinet and bottom tumble dryer give consumers complete control of their drying options.

The Drying Center design gives consumers a myriad of options not just in terms of positioning their clothes—shelf or hanging—but also in terms of the functions the unit will perform. “The design integrates all of the concerns consumers face with the drying process—it minimizes shrinkage, speeds up the drying process, reduces wrinkles, eliminates odors and refreshes clothes,” said Freese.

He noted the traditional balancing act between form and function was an easy challenge to overcome with the Neptune Drying Center. “Form and function never fought each other,” Freese said. “We worked in the two elements at the same time, which is really the beauty of the product. Form and function were equally considered as the product came into being.”

As with any product that can successfully combine these attributes, the consumer response to the Neptune Drying Center has been extremely positive. The product’s look and performance combine to quickly and effectively immediately communicate to the consumer that this is a product that is not only different but one that will solve their drying needs.

“Consumer response is apparent the minute they see the product,” said Freese. “It immediately resonates with the consumer and she understands how the product will maker her life easier.”

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