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Are you turned on by feature-heavy appliances?

Heston Blumenthal looking at his tea maker

Would you pay more for a kettle that boils to 80 and 90 degrees as well as 100 degrees? Appliances with lots of fancy features are making their way into our homes, but do we really need all the bells and whistles?

I don’t think I’d pay more for a kettle that boils to different temperatures. Boiling water has worked just fine for the 30,000 or so cups of tea and coffee I’ve brewed so far. So Heston Blumenthal’s new range of kitchen gadgets, which includes an automatic tea-maker and a smart kettle, are unlikely to make it to my kitchen. But am I in the minority?

Fine without the fancy features

I have pretty basic needs when it comes to appliances. They need to do their job well, whether it be washing my clothes or cooking my food. And they need to be reliable. But I’m not really interested in special programs or features.

But there are exceptions to this rule. For example, when I buy my next oven, I’ll definitely go for one with pyrolytic cleaning. I hate cleaning the oven, and paying a bit more for an oven that does it for me seems like a very good idea.

A recent episode of BBC Watchdog highlighted some of the more complex appliances out there, including a tumble dryer with a ‘cuddly toy’ setting, a microwave with a ‘chaos defrost’ function and an iron that offers ‘small steam particles for tough creases’.

Satisfied with extra settings

Making products with a raft of special features is nothing new for manufacturers, but many of those settings will languish unused. However, some of them are definitely useful. For example, Which? researcher Jess Carson told me:

‘The buttons on the new Heston Blumenthal range are actually really simple – the toaster buttons labelled ‘a quick look’ or ‘a bit more toasting’ strive for really plain, simple functions that add value.’

Products with the kind of features Jess mentions above are taking inspiration from the way we actually use our appliances, with positive results. My colleague Victoria Pearson owns a temperature-control kettle and loves it. She told me:

‘My husband loves a range of different Chinese teas, which all need different temperatures to steep. The more “fermented” your tea, the higher temperature you use. The black tea that you’ll find in a tea bag needs blasting to get flavour out of it, but green teas become bitter if overheated.’

Are you turned on by feature-heavy appliances, or can you live without them? Could the automatic tea-maker ever take the place of your kettle and teapot in your home?


I do not have any feature-heavy appliances, though I confess to being tempted by bean-to-cup coffee makers. I am not aware of any reliable products on the market, though I have seen, used and repaired ones that are not very good.

That was rather ambiguous. The bean-to-cup coffee makers made great coffee but the reliability was not good. For example, a Gaggia Titanium had to be repaired in the guarantee period and cost £200 to fix when it broke down after the guarantee period had expired. It lasted another two weeks if I recall. I managed to fix it but it developed another fault and was disposed of.

I’ve just bought a Which? Best Buy kettle – Bosch TWK8631GB – that heats to 70 / 80 / 90 / 100.

It seemed like a good idea to me, as filling a hot water bottle with boiling water is not recommended and I can get a bowl full of hot washing up water without risking serious burns.

OK, it could be a bit OTT, but why question your own recommendations?

I see that there are 36 reviews – both good and bad – of this kettle on the Which? website.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

I have this kettle. It was incredibly expensive when you consider that I don’t use any features other than the “on” button. I bought it solely because I very much like the look of it, and being on show, that’s important to me.

It’s noisy when it the water is heating, but so is every other fast-boil kettle I have ever used, so that’s more a down-side of the principle of fast-boil kettles rather than a negative of this kettle. There is nothing I can fault this kettle on…it’s packed with options I never wanted or asked for, but I made the choice to buy it as it’s stylish and very practical (some kettles are soooooooooo hard to pick up when full of water, but this isn’t).

Perhaps after this they can come up with a kettle that can boil water silently and rapidly. I haven’t found one yet.

The current bunch of rapid boil kettles should be used to frighten off the nuisance callers. I often wander into the kitchen when I’m on the phone and as soon as I switch on the kettle they say ‘what on earth is that noise’.

Heston Blumenthal’s ideas are like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Swan Automatic, 3 kW element, 3 pint capacity, made in Birmingham in 1976, still going strong, never had a new element, boils as near silently as you’ll ever get I think (very very quiet – you can’t hear it’s on if you are more than 10 feet away and boils the full 3 pints in less than 5 mins, or just enough to cover the element (about 0.75 pints) in well under 2 mins. and what’s more it has some wonderful novelty features that you don’t find on many modern kettles:
1) the lid lifts off easily and doesn’t dribble when you put it down to one side
2) it pours a smooth, steady, stream of water with no drips, dribbles or split-streams
3) it switches off pretty much the second it boils, rather than before boiling or after steam-stripping the wallpaper in the entire house and boiling nearly dry first.

I highly recommend it. Mine was my Aunt’s but I did see one new and boxed on e-bay recently …. it got over 30 bids and went for almost £70 in the end. The price ticket on the box off mine says Boots £9.75. In 1976 that was probably about equivalent to a £19.99 one these days I guess.

Alwyn Maynard says:
29 May 2013


A lot of these appliances are also good ways of saving energy.

Who really uses 100 deg boiling water these days, for coffee? or hot chocolate? Not unless you want 3rd deg burns on your lips.

Boiling the right amount of water at the right temperature for coffee and other hot drinks is common sense.

Anyone who has studied physics will tell you that it takes lots of energy to get water from 90 deg C to 100 deg C and once you turn the kettle off it’s back down to 90 deg within a few seconds anyway.

I like Heston’s new ideas.

Were you one of the ones asleep at the back of my class? 🙂

It takes no more energy to heat water from 90 deg C to 100 deg C, than for any other increase of 10 deg C. What is different is the rate of heat loss, the higher the water’s temperature from ambient.

So you are right that water near boiling point cools more quickly. However, because the rate of heat input in an electric kettle is so great compared to the losses, the difference is practically insignificant.

I agree completely there is no point in heating water to a higher temperature than you need, however.

We use the kettle mostly for making tea, so need boiling water. These newfangled kettles are just a waste of money; no more than a kitchen fashion accessory. They are no more efficient than cheap kettles. It takes the same power to heat 1 litre of water from a given temperature to boiling. Providing the kettles are designed so that the heat from the element goes only to the water, they are 100% efficient, so use identical power.

And if someone thinks that making hot chocolate at 80 degrees won’t burn your lips, be very careful. Eighty degrees can still cause serious burns. Please don’t experiment though!

As for using cooler water for washing up, why? If you need 2 litres of boiling water plus sufficient cold to provide just sufficient water for your washing up bowl, you will need more water at 80 degrees and less cold water to give you the same quantity of washing up water at the same temperature. Or to put it another way, a bowl of washing up water (say 6 litres at 60 degrees) uses the same energy whether the water was boiling or only 80 degree because you adjust the quantity of cold water to cool it down to 60 degrees. So no energy saved whatsoever.

They are just gimmicks. Save your money.

Why are people boiling water in kettles to wash up? Don’t they have these wonderful newfangled all-singing all-dancing combi boilers to provide washing up water? Or a Dishwasher?

oops, silly me… I forgot that these new boilers actually use more energy to heat a bowl of water than a kettle does and waste 2 bowls full before they run hot, and dishwashers, of course, are usually connected to the cold supply so heat the water electrically anyway … unless you have a Miele connected to your hot cylinder which is heated by solar panels and a 34 year old boiler that uses less gas than next door’s 2 year old SEDBUK A combo.

Oh dear …. do I sound a little sceptical of energy saving claims again? Sorry 😉

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

Just to nit-pick with the first line of the original article…”A kettle that BOILS to different temperatures”? Should that not be “heats” to different temperatures? I was given to understand that in the UK, water boiled at 100C…

Water would boil around 70C on the top of Mount Everest, so this kettle could be handy to take with you if you are planning an adventure holiday.

If you really want to nit-pick, it isn’t the kettle that boils. 🙂

To be precise, pure water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level everywhere. As you rise above sea level atmospheric pressure lowers so the boiling point lowers. Vice versa as you drop below sea level. This is why the cooling system in a vehicle is pressurised: it raises the boiling point of the coolant.

Distillation, especially sea water purification, is often done in a vacuum container because water boils at a considerably lower temperature saving significant energy and costs. But the lower boiling point would make lousy tea!

To nit-pick in the extreme, the water won’t boil without the kettle, so saying that the kettle boils is fairly accurate.

The boiling point of pure water drops 1 degree Celsius for every rise 285 metres in elevation. At the summit of Everest you get a lousy cup of tea.

Errr…… tongue-firmly-in-cheek here, but do you find many convenient 13 amp sockets at the top of Everest? I’m thinking of packing the kettle in my knapsack but unsure if I need a long extension lead to plug in at the bottom before I climb up?

Dave D, and don’t forget the fan heater, I hear it’s a bit nippy up there.

I’ve just been reading: http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/kitchen/guides/how-we-test-kettles/

It doesn’t say anything about testing kettles at different water purities, atmospheric pressures, or under water. I’m beginning to wonder how effective these modern kettles with a temperature sensor would be at switching off, compared to the old bi-metalic steam sensors in the more traditional automatic kettle design.

Is this something Which? should be including in its testing programme? I shall look forward to ratings including Pros: Good in coastal regions. Cons: Poor in hard water districts, in submarines or up Ben Nevis.

It would be interesting to interpret the energy ratings at Everest, Sea and Polaris points. However, it is pretty irrelevant to us in the UK. Even the highest village in the UK is only 551m, so their kettles boil around 98.6 degrees which would be hardly noticeable. We don’t have any death valleys or even Mariana trenches in the UK either.

Similarly, water would have to be way beyond potable for the contents to have a noticeable effect on the boiling point too.

Boiling water is easy to detect with the eye (and ear), so if it is turning off at a lower temperature or failing to turn off quickly after boiling, the user would quickly be alert to a problem.

My goodness. All you need to take a Conversation well off-topic is a few contributors that paid attention in their school physics lessons. 🙁

Meanwhile, back on topic…. I am interested to know how why these gadgets are branded ‘Sage’ rather than ‘Heston Blumenthal’. That makes me think of a common herb or insurance for the over 50s. George Foreman and the company made his grills did well from putting his name on the appliance. Celebrity endorsement of products does not appeal to me but it does seem to help with sales.

OK, to put you back on topic (although there is no greater truth than science):

“Sage” is the UK brand name chosen for small electrical appliances from the Australian Breville Group.

They had to come up with a new name, as the brand “Breville” is already used for the eponymous sandwich toaster and other appliances already on sale in the UK, by the US company Jarden Consumer Solutions.

No doubt some marketing agency came up with the name “Sage” after a multi-million dollar brain storming, which no doubt explains why the kettle is on sale for an eye-watering £199.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

Breville also made the Anthony Worral Thompson range of appliances too, back in the early 00’s. I guess they didn’t want to be linked to another ‘celebrity’ chef for whatever reason? Also, in the UK the name Breville was almost unheard of 20 years ago on anything but sandwich makers, but today is very much associated with many budget small-appliances (I think that if one still remembers it only as the original sandwich toaster then they are like me – of a certain age!)…it’s not a brand which can generally command the price tag of the Sage range of appliances.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

I was working in an electrical store in the late 1990’s, when George Forman got behind contact grills. Not only did we sell out time & time again of the G F model, we also sold out of the other brand we stocked. Nothing exciting about that, yes, but until them we’d have been lucky to sell one per year. No one wanted them, until someone famous recommended it.

As other people have pointed out, Sage by Heston Blumenthal is rebranded Breville of Australia. Even the writer of this article says Heston Blumenthal’s new range of kitchen gadgets.

The marketing of these products is very misleading. Did Heston Blumenthal have anything at all to do with their creation?

We were thinking of buying the Smart Scoop ice cream maker but after doing a bit of research into whether it was the one we really wanted, it felt like a real rip-off.
Australia: $344 – £216.87
USA: $399 – £262.26
UK: £349

We will reconsider buying one when the price is more reasonable.

Hi Alfa,

You’re right – these are Breville products that have been re-branded for the UK / European markets, as the brand name Breville is already in use over here.

As we understand it, the initial launch of 16 appliances are existing Breville products that have been cherry-picked from the existing range by Heston and his team – after a lot of trying out in the Fat Duck kitchens.

However, Heston is working with the Breville product development team on new ideas, so I would expect to see more Heston-influenced products a little further down the line.


What would appeal to me in a kitchen product is clever design features that overcome common problems. Take the kettle as an example:

As Em has mentioned, temperature sensors can overcome the common problem that automatic kettles often do not switch off promptly.

It can be difficult to fill a kettle quickly via the spout because of the limescale filter. I can see a couple of possible solutions that could overcome this problem. Alternatively, design the kettle so that the kettle can be carried and the lid opened with one hand. This has been done, of course, but is still not common.

A very common reason for kettles failing is leakage around the water level indicator. By using an internal level sensor with an external display, the problem would be overcome easily. The display could be combined with the temperature display if the kettle had different settings.

Insulating a kettle would help the water hot and save electricity. That would increase the size and weight to some extent, but this would not be a problem for many users. Insulation could help cut down the noise that annoys many users.

Insulated kettles would only be of any use if they are going to store the water for a length of time (like a hot water cylinder). But the added weight will hamper many people because they have arthritis or other medical problems reducing the hand/wrist strength. This is especially so for older users.

Besides, the best tea is brewed from freshly drawn cold water, boiled and poured onto the tea immediately. Boiling twice (drives out more dissolved oxygen) or not using it at the higher temperature ruins a good brew.

I agree that some users could have difficulty with a kettle that is heavier and more bulky, but as I said, this would not be a problem for many users.

I don’t think there is much dissolved oxygen in freshly boiled water. I used to use dissolved oxygen probes in my research lab and have made tests. There could be other reasons why re-boiled water affects the taste but I believe the dissolved oxygen theory is hokum. I agree on the other points and wish that I could make decent tea with hard water.

There’s one of many thousands of discussions you can find on the Internet regarding how water/boiling/gases/temperature affects tea. I was wrong when I mentioned oxygen: seems its all dissolved gases, not just oxygen.

Boiling also changes the minerals too, so I guess that boiling affects tea taste depending on your water supply (its dissolved gases and mineral contents).

But they all agree that boiling more than once and using other than freshly drawn water will degrade the taste of the tea.

This is a good thread to read: http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/12lz2q/about_boiling_away_oxygen_from_water_when_boiling/

Talking of heavy and bulky kettles, has anyone actually tried to use that monstrosity from Panasonic which is like a giant square-based (and square-section) lump of aluminium with coloured plastic panels in the sides? Not only is it hideous to look at, but when you open it the actual water capacity is a very meagre circular cylinder down the middle (maybe it’s heavily insulated??) and it weighs a ton. (not literally before all the nit pickers spot that particular nit!) It also seems to be selling at over £100. Or to be more exact, in our department stores, it’s NOT selling ….. just sitting there getting reduced and reduced and reduced a bit at a time.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

Wavechange – I have read and noted your comments, and I can’t disagree (though I would say that the kettle I own now is somewhat over-engineered, and that’s without the type of water level sensor you suggest 🙂 ), however, the incredibly short life-span of today’s small appliances is of much greater environmental concern to me than the fact that some people may put too much water in a kettle or that the water doesn’t need to read boiling point. I run a house cleaning service and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the people I work for are changing their small appliances due to faults.

Then again, I shouldn’t be so, when I stop and think of the amount of kettles & irons I’ve gone through myself.

I share your concerns, Busy Bear, and that is why I suggested an internal water level sensor. Many kettles are discarded because of water leaks. I would like to see a ten year guarantee on consumer ‘durables’. If manufacturers have to pay for repairs, I’m sure that the build quality would improve.

I am also concerned that many of the domestic appliances that are disposed of are still in working condition, and have been replaced because our consumer society drives many of us to spend money on new products they don’t really need.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

Leaks are common…as someone who relies on copious cups of tea & coffee to get me through the working day, I get to use a lot kettles in peoples homes and of course I also move plenty more to clean. Many of them leak, although you might be surprised as to just how long some people will keep a drippy / leaky kettle for. The most common fault I have come across is the “it just died” scenario, whereby the kettle simply refuses to work at all. I’ve had that many times myself too.

Even the most affluent clients I’ve worked for have been known to invest in a £5 “value” supermarket kettle because they were fed up of the expensive ones lasting for very short periods of time.

It’s surprising also how many people never take back faulty items which are still under guarantee. On the surface it sounds wasteful, yet I think there is something admirable about someone who says they are too busy enjoying their children & lifestyle to worry about finding receipts and then doing battle with a store over something costing a relatively small amount of money.

Another advantage of buying on line and picking up from the store is that you can easily keep a folder full of invoices on your computer and then simply search for the brand or shop name to find it.

Absolutely agree WC. And don’t forget, if you have NO water level indicator but actually lift the lid and look inside (gasp! Horror!) you won’t have the place for it to leak from!

Hey! I think I just reinvented the wheel!!!!!

Many modern kettles have lids that take a bit of writhing to remove, no doubt because they often fell of when older models were upended to fill the teapot, sometimes resulting in scalded fingers. I often regard ‘progress’ as replacing one problem with another, or new, improved design faults.

Hi Busy Bear,

Leaking kettles are regularly highlighted by Which? members as a top annoyance. Although this is often caused by a faulty product, it can also be user error. If it is filled over the max fill level (or gets a bit over-zealous when boiling), water will get into the overfill pipe, and promptly leak out of the base. Our team of scientists at the Which? test lab demoed this for us when we went to visit recently! So worth checking before you abandon a leaky kettle…

Interesting to see all the responses here though. For my part, I’d like to see more appliances that keep things simple, do their primary job well, are built to last, and that only include features that truly make life easier. We’ll keep looking out for the best ones!

Hi Wavechange and Busy Bear

I used to suffer leaks with gauges back in the days when they were ‘external’ to the kettle. Usually they were a tube with a floating ball. The ball eventually sticks and the gauge eventually leaks from its gasket! Pathetic they were.

However, since some bright spark realised that all that is needed is a window in the side of the kettle, I’ve not had one leak. These windows seem to be bonded to the case, so don’t have any gasket. That’s another advantage of the modern plastic material they use as you can’t bond a window to a metal kettle, hence they use a gasket.

Poor terfar – only 1 leak in all these years. You must be bursting!

Sorry – I’ll probably get my hands smacked by the Which? staff now, but having just watched an old Are You Being Served episode with the same line in it I could not resist.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

Oh the joys of the external water gauges, some of which broke loose and shot boiling water out of the side!

As Wavechange said “clever design features that overcome common problems”

When will microwave manufacturers put light bulbs so they can be replaced by the consumer? Several years ago I was quoted about £60 to replace one.

When will toasters toast evenly? Most toasters on the market are too small to toast pitta bread or large slices of bread.

That’s an excellent example, alfa. Some models have a lamp that is easily replaceable, so it can be done.

Maybe the Sage toaster will toast evenly, but the expensive Dualit models are not good in this respect. For large items it is probably best to use the grill because having large slots might impair the performance on ordinary slices of bread.

My toaster toasts crumpets, pitta bread and doorsteps beautifully. The width adjusts automatically accommodate the thickest door step. My only gripe is if I toast crumpets at number 5 and the next item to be toasted needs to be set at 3, it does not adjust the setting, I have to remember to do so.

It is not a Nigella nor a Heston not even a Jamie – it’s a Boots!

You’ve had it a while then?
I looked on the Boots website but they don’t seem to do toasters any more !!!

Yes, a few years and because it does not have a button for ‘a quick look’ I set it to number 1. I tend to hold onto appliances until they stop working as I think it is better for the environment and my bank account to do this.

I chose it because it has two long slots and adjusts automatically for thin or thick bread. My previous toaster had four slots and was too small for large loaf slices, I always had to cut off a bit to make it toast all the slice. I did a lot of research before I bought it and I hope it lasts a good deal longer.

The new range by Heston is probably called Sage because he is a wise man, certainly he will be a rich one. The only ‘celebrity’ endorsed product I have ever bought was a Morphy Richards hairdryer and I think it was somebody like Andrew Collinge who endorsed it. I bought it because of the features. and the price, not because of the endorsement. I don’t think I ever heard of him. except via his endorsement of hair products. I would place much more more reliance on a Which? or Reevoo review than on a celebrity who is highly paid to endorse a product.

Busy Bear says:
1 June 2013

I totally agree about celebrity endorsement. The only reason it works is because most human beings are seemingly programmed into believing people who are paid to promote something are doing it for the love of the consumer, not the money. If this were not the case, salespeople would have a much harder job.

I am not a pessimist, nor am I an optimist. I am a realist. Like anyone who works hard for their money, I like to see what I am getting for it. I also hate to be ‘sold’ anything; back in my days in an electrical showroom I recognised a very real difference between the need to sell a “product” and the need to sell the “concept” of owing a product. As in, if they came for a new kettle it was my job to make sure that bought any kettle off us; that was selling the product. However “that matching toaster which would look so beautiful alongside your new kettle, sir” was selling a concept 😉

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

I have two toasters, a Bosch and a Morphy Richards. Both of them toast well, as did the Kenwood I had before that which is still going strong at my parents house, and that one is 10 years old now. Having read some of the comments about toasters, I conclude I am either not very fussy about my toast (it goes in white and comes out brown & crispy) or else I’ve been very lucky with my toasters.

I only ever had one toaster which I was unhappy with, and that was a cheap one from Argos. I didn’t expect it to last long, but I did assume that it would take a slice of bread, what with it being a toaster & all that. No, I had to cut one slice in half and put a piece in each of the two slots. 🙂

Jackie says:
1 June 2013

I think the new Sage Range by Heston Blumenthal is Great everything is easy to use easy to clean and your not wasting time on silly things like who wouldn’t want a mixer that has a timer on it when that’s kneading your bread you can carry on with another job
The Tea Maker is an incredible idea you have a perfect cup of tea everytime just the way YOU want it. We are now more interested in what we are putting into are bodies and what’s more safer then fresher ingredients from leaf tea to organic vegitables
Heston I know uses these appliances in his kitchen and the results are in his Food which is understandable why he is one of the best chefs out there

Busy Bear says:
1 June 2013

Jackie, you make some interesting points there. I think that if one is going to make use of the features available, then it’s certainly worth having them. However, the issue of ‘feature heavy’ is -I feel- one which runs a lot deeper.

See, now that the microchip is so cheap, and production never more so now that practically everything is imported, added ‘features’ are so much easier & cheaper to fit to appliances. There is even a school of thought which says it would cost more to make two or more of the same product with differing features and give the consumer the choice, than it does to mass produce one product which does the lot.

Add to this, all the (and dare I even type this seemingly over-used term?) ‘technology’ these days is in computers and telephones & so on. Right up until the late 1990’s, manufacturers of household appliances had all sorts of options and variables to add to their products so as to make them stand out from the competition, each one costing more and more, but with careful selection there was always something to suit the need, budget, (not to mention colour scheme) of every consumer. Take washing machines; I can’t be the only person under 40 (tell me I’m not…) who holds the memory seeing a twin-tub in so many houses, and who remembers that one ‘aspired’ to a front-loader, often starting out with a solitary spin-dryer and working their way up through the styles available as the years progressed.

We have reached the absolute peak when it comes to appliances now; they are tested and rated to give maximum performance whilst consuming the least amount of energy & water, they are all as convenient to use as they possibly can be, and as far as price goes, we’ve never had it so good in the UK. Don’t get me started on quality though, as we can’t have it all (as is being proven). That’s another debate! But in short, manufacturers have found themselves backed into a corner when it comes to setting themselves apart from each other.

Now, all the features that one really needs are added as standard, so the manufacturers have to think up more & more bells and whistles to focus the consumers attention on their own products. For me, I think this is where the topic we are discussing stems from. Having said all that, the ability for heated appliances such as irons and haircare gizmos (sorry – bloke alert – I don’t know what you girls use these days, I just see plenty of them lying around when I am cleaning 🙂 ) to switch themselves off after a few minutes of inactivity is clearly possible, but it’s a very USEFUL feature to have and I think manufacturers know this. That’s why they charge more for it. My Morphy Richards steam generator iron was very cheap at £99 and that turns itself off, but there was nothing else I could find for less that about £150 which did the same. If M R can do it, they all clearly can. They obviously don’t want to as they know people WILL pay extra for it. As a matter of safety, I think it’s high-time every heated appliance had this feature by law.

As for celebrity endorsement, its nowt new of course and is widely used to sell all manner of goods; it’s totally wasted on me as there are few celebrities I’d want to aspire to (let alone buy their wares 🙂 ) but you know, it clearly works.

Whole generations of young consumers have grown up believing that it’s all about the product. With it has been lost the art & skill of how to actually use the appliances. The classic example (one which I have seen more times than I can count, in my job) is the investment in a very expensive vacuum-cleaner which promises no end of performance (often attributed directly to the ‘technology’), yet has clearly never seen the back of a sofa or the underside of a bed.

I guess in all most consumers just love ‘features’, and features sell.

Every competent design engineer understands the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle and tries to find the most appropriate solution to problems without undue complication. The problem with domestic appliances is that they are ‘designed’ by people who are more interested in aesthetics and marketing features rather than practicality. I have a fan heater which looked quite good in the catalogue but turned out to be a right so-and-so. It was said to have single button control of power levels and temperature settings. The picture seemed to show several buttons for the various functions. The reality was rather different. What I thought to be a series of buttons turned out to be a series of LED indicators, there being just a single button to cycle through the options. The sequence of events is thus: after switching on, the first press of the button selects full power and no temperature control; the second press selects low power with no temperature control; a series of presses then cycles through the various temperature setting on full power then the same settings on low power. For my application I need 11 presses of the button to achieve the required setting! There is no memory so this procedure has to be undertaken each time the heater is used. A triumph of ‘design’ over use.

This situation does not really surprise me. Some years ago I was invited to a display of award winning designs for proposed domestic appliances. What became rapidly obvious was that several of them were completely impractical and couldn’t possibly work. When I mentioned it to one of staff I was told that this was quite irrelevant! He went on to say that ‘little technical chappies’ (his very words) were employed to sort out any problems. So, don’t be too surprised with over complicated, unreliable domestic gadgets, no doubt the ‘little technical chappies’ did their best from a very bad starting point.

I was pleased to spend my career in the aerospace industry where function took priority over such things as aesthetics and marketing ploys.

I have a strange fascination for poorly designed products, tonyp. It is amazing to see large multinational companies make silly mistakes.

Thanks for telling us about your fan heater.

Busy Bear says:
3 June 2013

“It is amazing to see large multinational companies make silly mistakes”

I like this statement. Why? Because in a world where everyone seems to value style over substance, I did think I was the only one left on the planet who saw domestic appliances as principally there to perform a task and not to be looked at. Granted I was the one who said I bought my Bosch kettle for its looks, but a kettle is on show. It’s about the only appliance which is though (my top-tip for keeping anything clean is to store it in a cupboard 🙂 ). One of the key factors for me when choosing hand-held appliances (above cost, colour, brand etc) is how comfortable they are to hold…I can stand for a few hours at a time for some of my clients, so it’s imperative that I “get on” with the iron I’m using.

Many of my older clients have bought new kettles and gave up on them very quickly as they could not lift them easily when filled with water.

However, are the manufactures really making mistakes? Well, people are buying their wares…so for me I think not. They seem to be making what people want, or at the least what people will accept. I’d change many things about some of today’s appliances if I could…but of course, I can’t 🙁 I just have to buy what is available.

It would be interesting to see Heston’s tea maker compared with a vintage Goblin Tessmade, not only for performance but for entertainment value. I’ll bet the new one does not make decent gurgling noises.