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The New York Kettle Company
(not a real company)
The Joule Electric Kettle
The Joule Electric Kettle is an experiment in creating fresh meaning for a commodity product.
By trying (and epic failing) to make a toaster completely from scratch, Thomas Thwaites revealed how disconnected we are from the materials, people, and places that shape our products.
My growing interest in the Slow Movement led me to wonder if an elevated product design could create a business case for entirely local manufacturing of a commodity product like an Electric Kettle.
My career journey started in mechanical engineering and aerospace manufacturing. Factories are exciting places with great stories. I had a deep personal interest in connecting consumers to these environments.
Shinola was a huge inspiration and a proof-of-concept. They've created a regional network of heritage manufacturers to produce beautiful objects. Their storytelling adds a deep layer of connection between consumer and product. This added value justifies a high price point and creates business viability.
But I was particularly interested to push for a generic appliance, rather than precious, heirloom objects. Electric Kettles are generally horrible and the category seemed ripe for the Power of Design.
There are two foundational elements that led the design process: the french press glass beaker and the exposed heating element.
The french press vessel choice came from a desire to keep the design simple. As a generic appliance, I wanted the kettle to feel uncomplicated and essential in a Muji kind of way. This specific vessel's form and material are native to the visual language of coffee and tea, which is the dominant use case for electric kettles.
The aim for simplicity was also motivated by a desire to keep the fabrication and assembly easy. U.S.-based manufacturing has a steep economic disadvantage compared to overseas markets, and I wanted to do everything I could to keep costs down.
And my final reason was that it just felt right.
The second element that differentiates this kettle design is the exposed heating element.
The kettle below is typical of the standard market offerings.
In an effort to keep things visually simple, manufacturers complicate assembly by welding the heating element onto a flat plate which then heats up the water. The glass vessel has no bottom and is irreversibly glued to the metal plate to create a seal.
Part of my experimentation was to purchase off-the-shelf heating elements and investigate their workings.
Testing this 'bucket heater' revealed a fascinating visual effect that peaked my curiosity. As the heat transfers from the metal coil to the water, beautiful swirls and eddies are generated.
I designed a heating element form with this effect in mind and contracted a manufacturer in Connecticut to fabricate a prototype.
You can view the effect in the video below. It's pretty fun to watch.
This is the fully functional prototype that I machined from aluminum (with a little help from my friends).
With the kettle designed, I began working on the local/regional implementation. I mapped out a network of manufacturers who could produce all the components and local distribution channels that would be interested in this kind of product.
The design is currently parked in the concept phase. If you have any interest in future development, please feel free to reach out.
The Joule Kettle was my graduate thesis project and was featured on @student.design which was pretty cool. The reviews are...mixed.
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