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High & Dry 

A collapsible, stylish, and space saving dish rack

 

 

About

This project was a part of the Integrated Product Development class at the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan. Our interdisciplinary team consisted of students from the schools of business, engineering, art, and information (user experience). We were tasked with building a product that served the needs of those who live in high urban areas. In a span of 3 months, we understood the problem and user needs through market and user research, brainstormed, designed and tested several concepts, prototyped the solution, and finally showcased and sold the product in a trade show. 

My Role

UX Researcher, survey designer, data analyst, product designer, prototyper

The High & Dry team presenting our product at the tradeshow

Understanding the problem

Interviews

We interviewed 25 people, in person and remotely, to understanding how they engaged with their living spaces in high urban areas. Interviewees included college students who lived in dorms and small apartments, young professionals who lived in cities like New York and San Francisco, and finally those with families. I led developing an interview protocol based on our core research question: What are the needs and problems that individuals and families face living in highly urban areas? 

After interviews, I led an affinity diagramming exercise to identify key themes and insights in the qualitative data the team had collected. 

Survey

Based on the themes identified in the affinity diagramming process, we decided to conduct a focused, and short survey to scale the research, validate the insights found through affinity diagramming, and take a quantitative approach to these insights. I led the survey design using Qualtrics, and we disseminated the survey to those living in high urban areas through social media and personal contacts. We received 85 responses to the survey.

The survey results helped us understand who our target demographic was, how they engaged with their space, and main issues they faced in their current living situation. Our target demographic was: 

  • Digital natives
  • Living/studying/working in an hyper-urbanized environment
  • Pay premium for limited living space
  • Spending less than $200 for space-saving item

Key Insights

  1. Lack of counter space in the kitchen

  2. Need for efficient storage

  3. More space and seating to entertain guests

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Ideation

The key insights above helped us hone in on key issues our target demographic faced. We had 4 brainstorming sessions to diverge and come up with all the ideas we could think of and sketched them out. For inspiration and ideas, we relied on our own imagination as well as research and pictures of other space saving products that already existed.  

Some of the ideas that resulted from the brainstorming sessions

Some of the ideas that resulted from the brainstorming sessions

We then converged and used a filtering process based on what was important to our users. Was it a space saver? Was it practical? Was it multi functional? Was it original? If the idea didn't accomplish one or more of the requirements, they were funneled out of our concept testing phase. This exercise resulted in us choosing 5 concepts to test out with our target users. 

Concept Testing

We created a Qualtrics survey with photos and descriptions of our top 5 concepts that aligned with the key insights above, as well as two concepts that already existed and were on the market. The survey gauged if the product met a need, how likely they would buy the product, and their likes, dislikes and feedback to improve the product. These questions were asked for each of the 5 concept cards in the survey. 

Concept test results revealed that the Dish Drying rack was the most popular:

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Conjoint Analysis

Once we had the concept in mind, we began to note down features of the actual product such as price, material, rack size, rack mounting, etc. In order to gauge which of these features would be most important to our users, we conducted a conjoint analysis. Below is a summary of the conclusions of this test:

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Prototyping

The initial prototyping stages involved us coming up with ways to build a dish rack that was functional, collapsible, and aesthetically pleasing. We experimented with designs that hung up, and that sat on the counter around kitchen sinks. We found that it was difficult to do the dishes or use the rack simultaneously if it expanded over the sink, that the weight distribution on the different rack levels was a factor, and focusing on aesthetics and functionality would be a challenge. We also found out that we needed something to catch the water dripping from the rack. We realized that this could not always end up above a sink, so we needed to add a water catcher that was easy to remove and clean. 

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These findings led us to focus on a more minimalistic and sleek design as opposed to having the dish rack fold to reveal a piece of art. We tried to come up with ways where the racks would look like dish racks, but could fold away to reveal a sleek yet aesthetic design. We realized that this product could not only save counter space and be functional, but it could also be a conversation piece in the kitchen. 

Using our existing dish rack and benchmarking against those in the market, we identified and experimented with proper dimensions to hold plates. We used cardboard as a prototype initially to test different designs as well as it's ability to hold plates. Once the dimensions were set, we used wood and acrylic, and began building our final high fidelity prototype. 

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Testing the plates on these prototypes also revealed the need for support, to prevent the plates from tipping over. Having removable inserts to prevent the plates from falling over was an important addition to the final prototype. 

Final Product

Our final product was a two level dish rack that could hang on the back of the kitchen cabinet or could be mounted on the wall. The design was minimalist, functional, and most importantly, could hang and fold away to save the precious kitchen counter space in high urban living areas.

Below are final pictures and a demo video of how to use the product. 

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