I think the biggest opportunities that human-centred design might offer in the future could be a move from mass production to mass personalisation. We are moving into a new era of personalisation.
Is it possible for design to be human-centred? Our lives are filled with devices and objects that showcase a variety of design philosophies, but it often feels like little thought has been given to both use and user. Youmeus, a design studio based in London, wants to change that. Led by Chris Christou and Kathy Forsyth, their goal is to design products and consumer experiences for people. Working with well-known brands like Kenwood and Panasonic Japan, Youmeus has amassed an impressive collection of minimal, simple, and well-conceived product designs. Instead of being cold and unapproachable, the design work of Youmeus almost begs to be touched. Enjoy this glimpse into their creative process and their holistic approach to product design.
Explain what it means to ‘Design for People’?
Human design is our mantra. It reflects the belief that the products we use should support human nature, not go against it. That belief informs everything we do at Youmeus, putting the user at the centre of our design process.
A human centred approach allows us to design products inspired by a deep understanding of how people live and how they experience things. Understanding the cultural, emotional, symbolic and commercial values and translating these into meaningful products and consumer experiences.
Over the years we have refined our design toolkits to suit different project scenarios. All this helps us to uncover one key thing ‘insight’.
We noticed that you’ve worked extensively with Kenwood. How did this collaboration materialise?
I was one of the first members of kdo, Kenwood’s newly formed in-house industrial design studio which was set up by Pentagram associate Johan Santer. I worked at kdo between 1994-1998. This relationship continued and Kenwood later became a client of Youmeus. Over the years we have worked on over 50 projects together.
Your designs for Kenwood take on everyday objects like coffee pots and toasters. What did you hope to achieve with these updated designs?
Ultimately making things better. More human. Useful and understandable. Honest and simple.
La Moka is a stellar concept that combines modern elegance with an eclectic mix of global influences. What’s the story behind the design?
The way we experience a product can often have a profound effect on how it makes us feel. At Youmeus we believe that product experience go hand-in-hand with product functionality. Rituals associated around products help to create enjoyment and enjoyment leaves lasting memories.
We developed a story based on the idea of discovery with the tag line ‘Where do you want to go?’ and created a collection of breakfast products designed to spark a sense of adventure and enjoyment through the process of using them.
Inspired by world cultural references, authentic moka caffè the Italian way, tea from Asia and toast from England, these are products that take inspiration from around the world, transporting you to places, people, and culture. Three La Moka products were developed: coffee maker, tea maker, and toaster.
Who are the designers of the past that influence your team’s approach? Is Dieter Rams one of them?
People often think that we have some kind of ‘house style’. We do have a design philosophy, however as a consultancy we work with a diverse range of clients and brands. Therefore our influences are always consumer and brand driven.
Having said that we do have some design heroes. Dieter Rams would be one of them, but so would Philippe Stark. Two opposing designers, Rams approach for creating products that are efficient, honest, and easy to navigate and Stark for his ability to bring personality and emotion to objects.
I think aspects of the work at Youmeus sits somewhere in between. We try to create products and experience that balance both function and emotion.
The kMix Espresso machine is uniquely understated. Who is the intended consumer? Is it intentionally minimalist?
The kMix Espresso machine came out of a design study commissioned by Kenwood to explore new ideas and opportunities for the portfolio. Our focus centred around creating a new design philosophy and product expression for the kMix range. This work helped to inform internal design and new product development roadmaps.
kMix—a sub-brand of Kenwood—is designed for people with an optimistic outlook on life. People who are adventurous, creative, and spontaneous. Which translates to a bold, iconic, and disruptive design expression.
The design was not intentionally minimalist, however minimalism for Youmeus is more a philosophy not ascetic. A bit like a yacht or aeroplane everything is there to perform, with clearly defined elements. The result was a simple, pared back ascetic.
How do you want consumers to interact with the products you design?
We want customers to just enjoy using our products. Therefore, we try to focus on every touchpoint in the consumer experience to make it a delightful interaction.
What role does sustainability play in your design philosophy?
This is a difficult one to answer as sustainability is something that goes beyond the product and should be considered at a wider business level.
We do however buy into the philosophy of creating products with longevity. Products that stand the test of time, are reliable and serviceable. This can be hard to achieve, especially in todays world of fast moving consumer goods.
To us, the Luca Breakfast range is a highlight of your work. It appears to seamlessly blend utilitarianism with a distinctively organic colour palette. What inspired it?
With ‘Luca’ we set out to create a range of products that would stand the test of time. Products that are simple and uncompromising.
We wanted to move away from the metallic brushed metal product trend of the time, which was perceived as ‘premium’ but also perceived as cold and technical.
We explored a different approach as an expression of a warmer and domestic design identity. Exploring the qualities of synthetic materials such as Corian®, glass filled polycarbonate and stainless steel, helped to create a premium product range with a sense of refinement, quality, and modern craftsmanship. Products that are reliable, serviceable, and age beautifully over time.
How is the landscape of industrial design different today than when you first started working with household objects?
A lot has changed over the last 20 years, especially with the use of computer aided design and rapid prototyping. However not a lot has changed either. Design is still not as widely understood as it could be. Here are some of the shifts we have seen:
Rise of the In-House Design Function
Companies like Apple Inc. have shown the world the benefits of a truly integrated design function.
A trend for in-house design has been on the rise. Many companies now count ‘design’ as a central business function. Relatively few have made true shifts and with varying degrees of success. It’s important to understand that hiring the best designers and design leadership can be waisted unless the company structure is ‘wired’ to use design better.
Consultancies are adapting to this shift. Often supporting existing in-house teams and offering some well-needed perspective on product and service.
Product-Centric to Consumer-Centric
Companies are increasingly seeing the value and adopting the consumer-centric approach, and putting their customers at the heart of everything they do.
Generalist to Interdisciplinary
As the industrial design discipline has matured and become more recognised as a profession, it has also become more focused, and specialist. We have hardware design, UX design, UI design, CMF design, and so on… We now find industrial designers working in collaboration with other design specialists.
Are there other everyday objects that your team would like to explore?
We’ve been fortunate to have worked in many different categories except for furniture, which could be an interesting addition.
With the power of hindsight and experience, is there a product you would like to redesign?
The products we have designed over the years had relevance to the brand, consumer, and market of the time. As designers we are constantly evolving so we try not to dwell on the past.
What role do you believe human-centred design will play in the future?
I think the biggest opportunities that human-centred design might offer in the future could be a move from mass production to mass personalisation. We are moving into a new era of personalisation. Consumers are demanding more personalised products and services. Success lies in creating personalised experiences and delivering them in an authentic manner.
Advances in manufacturing and distribution technologies as well as the rapid growth of the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) brings massive opportunity.
New manufacturing and distribution technologies would allow designers to design highly modular product offerings that can be tailored by the consumer at point-of-purchase.
IoT and AI shapes a future of smart products. Products with ability to get-to-know-you. Products that learn your routines, likes and dislikes, and adapt to provide you with a highly personalised experience. We are already seeing this with internet services such as Netflix and home products like the Nest thermostat.
I think the future of human-centred design would mean going beyond segmentation and personas with a heavier focus on experience based on understanding behaviour and intent.
Outside of the studio, what are some of your favourite spots in London to spend time?
Outside of the studio I participate in road cycling. I’m a member of a small cycle club in Beaconsfield where we regularly ride the Chiltern hills. We also travel internationally to racing events and tours.