Crafting Tomorrow: The Art of Designing the Future

A conversation on how collaboration between professionals can create environmentally conscious products that meet customers' needs while safeguarding the future.

Umberto Palermo, CEO and Founder of UP Design, the Italian Design House Homa, and Federico Rebaudo, the General Manager of Homa Europe,
had an insightful talk during a meeting held in the first week of April at UP headquarters near Turin, Italy.
The focus was on preparing content for the April Canton Fair and the Salone del Mobile in Milano, the most important global event for design.
They explored how strategic marketing, product marketing, designers, R&D, and procurement departments can collaborate to deliver sustainable products by incorporating environmental considerations early in product development.

The exciting exchange we are reporting here arises from some which are at the basis of Homa's thinking in this phase of significant investments for future global product platforms.

Federico Rebaudo (FR): In today's world, sustainability is no longer just a buzzword but a critical factor that companies must consider in their operations. Sustainable product innovations require systems thinking, which involves intentionally changing a company’s products, services, or processes to generate long-term social and environmental benefits while creating economic profits for the firms. It is the key to meeting the needs of the present while safeguarding the future for generations to come. Design plays a crucial role in determining the ecological footprint of the entire product lifecycle. As tackling climate change becomes a key priority worldwide, environmental sustainability is at the top of the agenda.

While countries, international organisations and companies are setting goals and implementing measures that move towards these priorities, it's a cultural shift that relies on more than one person and more than one initiative. Only if we come together to address the problems at their sources can we truly cultivate the changes we need to ensure an enduring, successful transition for everyone. That's where sustainable design comes in. Sustainable design helps create products and experiences considering environmental, social, and economic impacts from the initial phase to the end of a product's life.

It is essential to be aware that 80% of the environmental impact can be managed in the design phase, which makes it clear how critical the role played by this process is on the entire life cycle of a product.

Umberto Palermo (UP): I know your incredible passion and effort on this matter; you are the sustainability torch breeders in Homa. I know how you insist on the case when we start a new project together. My starting point is straightforward: the growing consideration for the planet coincides with increasing community concerns. Consumers and communities across the globe are fearless in turning their backs on organisations that don't follow suit. The World Economic Forum found that at least 65% of consumers want to make the right spending choices to live healthier and more sustainable lives.

In response, designers seek opportunities to ensure their processes, materials, and approaches are as efficient as possible. From designing for the Circular Economy and renewable energy solutions and regenerative design to inclusive frameworks and recyclable materials – the result is a movement toward design that nurtures people and the planet.

At UP, I passionately recognise the innovative ways my designers are championing the future of sustainable design through a genuine approach structured in 3 points:

1) Design Process: the new project must use materials, processes or services that reduce environmental, human health or social impacts.
2) Design Worth: we set new benchmarks in design for sustainability; we study circular design practice, environmental stewardship, and regenerative design methods.
3) Design Impact: we implement measurable, sustainable outcomes and have a long-lasting, positive impact on the client, society, economy, and environment.

FR: That's a great insight, Umberto. Refrigerators will continue to play a crucial role in our homes, and it's essential to design them sustainably, functional, and aesthetically pleasingly. Can you elaborate on how you approach sustainable design in the cooling appliance industry?

UP: Of course. Sustainable design is at the core of our design philosophy.
We start by carefully selecting materials that have a minimal environmental impact and are recyclable. We also aim to design energy-efficient products, so we work closely with your R&D team to incorporate the latest technologies in our designs. We also consider products' total lifecycle impact (LCA), including their end-of-life disposal. We design products that can be easily repaired and disassembled to recycle their components, and we work with your suppliers to ensure they are using sustainable practices.

Ultimately, we aim to create products that meet our customers' needs and contribute to a sustainable future for our planet.

FR: That's great to hear, Umberto. Can you tell us more about how you stay updated with the latest design trends in the appliance industry and how you incorporate these into our designs?

UP: Staying updated with the latest design trends and technologies is essential for our design team.
We attend industry events, collaborate with sociologists, psychologists, and human interface specialists, and keep up to date with the latest technological advances. Collaboration is the key finding. Think about how we work with Homa; we work closely with your R&D team to ensure our designs are easy to manufacture and repair. The Homa TSM project is a fantastic example.
At the same time, rich in innovation and incorporate the latest technologies in fruitful ways for the end user.
So, as you correctly and incessantly repeat, design is not merely style!

FR: It's always interesting to hear how you work in sync with our organisation, bringing new ideas to support our pursuit of innovation. In recent years, for Homa, as the world leader in the OEM cooling industry, many of our customers' challenges have been directly or indirectly linked to their sustainability agenda. We are helping them replace products with a lower environmental footprint, accelerate the adoption of low-impact technologies, and establish circular product-service systems. In all these cases, design has a lot to contribute to sustainability. Could you tell us more about the challenges you face when designing a refrigerator and how you overcome them?

UP: As designers, one of our biggest challenges is balancing form and function. We strive to create aesthetically pleasing and practical products for everyday use. Today more than ever, we ensure that our designs are sustainable and have minimal environmental impact. However, we overcome these challenges by leveraging our creativity, experience, and common sense. We observe, listen, and live with the products to ensure we design for everyday life, not just to win awards and recognition. And I always remember that lousy design contributes to much waste, consumes resources, and fills up landfills!

FR: We must consider three complementary perspectives to ensure a good refrigerator design: desirability, feasibility, and viability.

This requires new collaboration across the value chain, including extra tasks and changes in consumer behaviour, business value analysis, and product design.
Can you tell us about the future scenarios for refrigerators and how you see the design thinking path for cooling appliances evolving in the next few years?

UP: The refrigerator is the nerve centre of the masterpiece of a home, the kitchen. It must be beautiful, easy to use, with simple functions, and an intuitive product. That's why, inspired by "gentle nudge", we must design a product that encourages the best preservation of food, avoids waste, and can respect nutritional values best.
It is easy to see that it is critical in this industry and overarch the complete design process: from human interaction to a strong focus on sustainable materials, repairability, and the total lifecycle impact of products.
We also see a strong trend that people around the globe are looking for long-lasting products that can be "loved and re-loved".
So, when we come to style, we must consider that the refrigerator's external aesthetic must be "evergreen"; this suggests sleek, elegant yet reinsuring lines. I feel it will be booming two kinds of distinct styles: one we can call the "Professional-Grade" or “PRO” style, and the second extraordinarily minimalistic and flat, especially for the slot in the platforms, which, as you have excellently explained to my team during our last strategic brief, is the segment with the highest demand and growth around the world, anyway both strongly "metallic."

FR: Umberto, let's move away from refrigerators for a moment and focus on sustainability and positive impact on the future. We know you have a passion for cars, and now you're combining that passion with your commitment to sustainability. Can you tell us more about Mole Urbana and your decision to enter the production of electric city cars?

UP: Sure, Federico. As a designer focused on sustainability, my values and beliefs align with producing electric city cars. Entering the production of city electric cars is an opportunity to be at the forefront of sustainable design in the automotive industry. With global urbanisation increasing, there is a growing need for transportation options designed for urban environments. Today technology is already mature and competitive for short distances. Electric city cars are more practical and efficient than traditional cars, making them an attractive solution for city dwellers and last-mile deliveries.

FR: Can you share some of your sustainable design principles and their application to producing electric city cars?

UP: Of course, Federico. While designing for sustainability, it is crucial to initiate a strategic shift, seeking the best possible compromise between the cradle-to-grave model and the cradle-to-cradle approach. Every product component is designed with its lifecycle in mind, including its end-of-life disposal. Repairability is a crucial factor in sustainable design, and it can lead to a more extended product lifespan, less waste, and improved user experience. We prioritise using sustainable and readily available materials, creating longevity, and, again, considering the total lifecycle impact of the product.

FR: It's impressive to hear how your sustainable design principles apply to city cars. How do you ensure Mole Urbana is practical for everyday use?

Umberto Palermo: Designing for practicality and functionality is crucial to our design process. We prioritise usability and ease of use. This approach overarches all our projects, including refrigerators. By designing for easy repair, we create more user-friendly products with an extended lifespan. These approaches overarch all our projects, including refrigerators. In designing cars, we also consider a broader social impact, such as generating local labour - imagine the maintenance cycle. Technology, also in cars, only does what it should do if embedded in a well-designed, consumer-centric ecosystem. We design how people and systems interact when creating a complete customer journey.

Federico Rebaudo: Thank you for this inspiring talk, which highlights the transformative power of design thinking in generating sustainable value. Today, we are witnessing significant changes, and it's finally clear that sustainability and growth go hand-in-hand. We cannot equate sustainability with ideas like de-growth, sacrifice, or renunciation. Instead, we must leverage creativity to find innovative solutions to our challenges.
Human responsibility and our critical sense are taking centre stage in this phase of accelerated progress, and it's interesting to reflect on this just as we increasingly rely on artificial intelligence. AI should be considered an enabler rather than a replacement for human beings.
The need for passion, courage, and experimentation has never been greater. In this constantly evolving context, individuals from all walks of life must be able to imagine and write new rules for a better, shared future.
Design thinking has never been more critical than it is today. It's a culture that allows us to explore new standards and values, challenge outdated systems, and open new paths. That's why we must continue to innovate and harness the power of design thinking to create new products and solutions suitable for a more sustainable and equitable future for all.
To conclude, we can emphasise that creativity and adaptability are crucial for ongoing innovation, challenging conventions, and pushing boundaries. The discussion gave us valuable insight: an innovative approach requires a collaborative and creative mindset that fosters value co-creation between manufacturers and design providers. Successful partnerships, like the one between Homa and UP, rely on a shared vision, trust, deep understanding, and a joint work approach.

Innovation is a continuous process that requires an open-minded and collaborative attitude.

HOMA and UP design
Homa and UP Design have been working together for over a decade to create one of the most successful partnerships in the global appliance industry.
UP supports Homa's design journey embodied by the unique POP-EXCLUSIVITY philosophy, where the design goes beyond mere aesthetics and becomes a fundamental element of Homa's products rather than just a premium feature.
At Homa, design is a universal language that transcends the boundaries of culture and geography, making it accessible to everyone, with only minor local adaptations required.
It's estimated that as of today, more than 50 million kitchens worldwide have a fridge born from this collaboration.
If you want to learn more about this dynamic duo, don't hesitate to check out more insightful stories:

- Design as beauty and performance
- A Design talk

Copyright HOMA 2023- Issued by Federico Rebaudo, General Manager at Homa Europe, May 2023
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