Is there such a thing as the perfect kettle?

Personally, I don’t think there is. ‘The’ perfect kettle doesn’t exist and there is definitely no one-size-fits-all solution – there are simply too many people to keep happy. Whether you’re a traditionalist, minimalist, essentialist, industrialist, or just plain weird, we all want something slightly different from our boiled water.

To help satisfy our need to be different, manufacturers usually create a plethora of range styles with unique features to fulfil all the potential consumer market segments, but this approach no longer feels enough.

As consumers, our relationships with the objects we own is changing and whether we have a little, or a lot, our stuff has become more disposable, replaceable and less personable, so forgive me for thinking that designing the perfect kettle seems like an impossible brief.

So how do we solve the impossible and make kettles matter?

We may not be able to create the perfect kettle for everyone, but kettle manufacturers do have the potential to create some truly distinctive solutions with meaning.

Our stuff matters

Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong perspective. What if we’re thinking about this too simplistically and from a purely superficial point of view?

If I think about the kettle, my first thoughts are not whether it will boil my water in under a minute or if it has the perfect pour; my first thoughts are whether it will match the colours and finishes in my kitchen. The actual functionality is overlooked, almost secondary.

It’s almost as though we automatically expect it to be the world’s best performing kettle – or it simply doesn’t matter. Then it dawns on me. We don’t actually put any value or worth on the 
kettle itself.

A kettle isn’t like a watch or a car or even a phone. It isn’t cherished or loved; it’s an inanimate object without a soul.

Whether it’s a new car, a new pair of shoes or a fancy new widget to peel carrots, we can’t help but love stuff. Even if it’s for the shortest period of time, our stuff makes us happy and keeps us content.

Our stuff brings balance and order to our lives and can even define who we are and silently project what we want to say about ourselves. Our stuff can embody our memories, our experiences and it also has the potential to become our legacy long after we have gone.

Materialism and ownership is a highly complex topic and I’m merely scratching the surface, but hopefully I’ve made the point: our stuff matters.

So why do we place more value on some objects and less on others?

If we loved our stuff that much 
why the constant need to replace or upgrade? Numerous studies have established that objects create connections between people, places and capture moments in time.

It’s these associations which create sentiment about our stuff, but in a world that is slowly floating into the cloud, connected items are more likely to be replaced with newer models because our attachment is not aimed at the object itself, but for what the object can give us.

Our stuff is merely a portal to what it can do for us.

Let’s go back to the kettle.

We know that we have more emotional connections with certain objects than others, and a kettle seems the least likely object to get attached to.

So can we blend and borrow these associations and meanings and design them into an appliance? Is it actually possible to make a kettle less replaceable and utilitarian? Is it possible to give it more meaning and in the process make it 
matter more?

At this point the Precipice team would sync their watches and disperse around the globe to understand what conversations people are having and what actually matters to them.

Unfortunately for me, my trip to the Bahamas wasn’t approved, so on this occasion I’ll have to make do with Google. ‘Ok Google’ why do people love their stuff?

The very first thing that caught my eye was a Tumblr blog by Foster Huntington. It asked a very simple question: ‘If your house was burning, what would you take 
with you?’

Our stuff creates our meanings

The responses were actually amazing. They unearthed a wealth of data on what truly matters to people of all ages all over the world.

There were items that you would expect, such as old watches and family photos, but there were also things with much more personal value, such as old shoes, worn jeans, records, musical instruments and even a skateboard.

This stuff had real emotional value and meaning.

People weren’t just hypothetically saving their iPhones. People were saving objects that they felt they could simply not live without and retain the same identity.

They were rescuing more than the actual object, they were saving their memories and their experiences.

It’s almost like they were saving themselves from extinction.

I decided to put this question out to the Precipice studio to see if we could look beyond our macbooks, and sure enough, an eclectic collection of objects returned. There were passports, phones, hard drives, cats, a first edition book, and family heirlooms.

Each object had a different meaning, a different value – not in a monetary sense, but in a higher emotional sense. We had projected ourselves onto them in some way, giving them a value beyond money and if they were lost in a fire, a little bit of us would also go up in smoke.

Somehow the perfect kettle would embody the heart of all these beloved items.

But let’s be realistic, it would take some pretty impressive storytelling to capture the soul of your grandfathers’ watch in the design of a kettle – or any domestic appliance, for that matter.

Even at a first glance I can start to see there are common threads in this data which could be leveraged with the right process and team to create some really interesting and truly unique opportunity spaces for appliance manufacturers.

Now, it’s all very well me sat here romanticising about the perfect kettle, but what would these opportunities look like, I hear you say. And would they actually help create the perfect kettle?

Again, probably not, but they would allow us to start having the interesting and possibly awkward conversations which can lead to us creating some really cool stuff. Just from this random selection of objects from the Precipice team, we can start to cluster them around three distinct meaning spaces, which for now I’ll call Legacy, Sentiment and Cherish.

At first glance these may read like whimsical topics with absolutely nothing to do with the design of the ‘perfect kettle’. Some may even deem them borderline crazy, but it’s challenging topics like these which could take a design team in some really thought-provoking directions.

We may not be able to create the perfect kettle for everyone, but kettle manufacturers do have the potential to create some truly distinctive solutions with meaning. They just have to dig a little deeper and reach beyond their comfort zones.

I’m not suggesting that aesthetics functionality or usability are ignored; on the contrary, these factors should be a given.

But it’s digging a little deeper to really understand the user and their connection to their beloved stuff that will enable a designer to create a more meaningful kettle that matters.

And maybe, just maybe give it a little more soul.