The LAB: Innovating a Refrigerator with the Division Template (December 2008)

by | Dec 31, 2008 | Design Thinking, Technology, The Wheel | 1 comment

A corporate innovation method should be robust enough to produce incremental as well as disruptive ideas.  One of my favorite templates in the S.I.T. method is called Division because it does just that.  The Division template takes a product or service, divides it or its components, and rearranges them to form a new product or service.  It is a particularly useful template to help people see their product or service in completely new ways.  It helps people get unstuck from the “fixed” frame that we all have naturally about our products or services.

My favorite example of Division happened during an innovation training session.  One of the participants was a bit cynical about the method and using patterns to innovate anything.  To help him overcome this, I let him select any product or service that he was convinced could not be innovated further.  He chose the refrigerator, a concept that has been with us since 1000 BC.  What follows is how we used Division in this spontaneous exercise to change his mind.

We begin by listing the product or service’s internal components.  Then we divide one or more of the components in one of three ways:

  • Functional (divide along functional roles)
  • Physical (cut the product or component on any physical aspect)
  • Preserving (each part preserves the characteristics of the whole)


Using Function Follows Form, we envision potential benefits of the new form and other ways to adapt the form to make it more useful.

Normal-Fridge-Sounds_245x400_2 Component List:

  1. door
  2. fan
  3. freezer section
  4. compressor
  5. temperature control
  6. main section (with light bulb)
  7. shelves
  8. water line
  9. ice maker
  10. drain
  11. coils

Here are some of the ideas that emerged during the session (with the type of division shown in parenthesis):

1.  Light Bulb (Preserving):  Divide the light bulb into multiple, smaller bulbs that light up each compartment.  This would allow better inspection of food freshness.  Potentially, it could reduce power consumption.  Perhaps the bulbs in each section have different properties that enhance or interact in some way with the specific type of food in that section (eg: ultraviolet light to reduce bacterial growth).

2.  Temperature Control (Functional):  Divide the control out of the box entirely and tie it into the home’s main thermostat.  This would allow the controls to optimize the temperature inside the box with the temperature and humidity inside the home.

3.  Door (Physical):  Divide the door into several sections, each controlling access to a different part.  This exists now with the freezer door, so the idea would be to extend it to multiple little doors.  Benefit is to control temperature better in each section and avoid losing cooling air when one section is opened up.  (Interestingly, some of the early refrigerators appear to have something like this based on old photos and diagrams.)

4.  Compressor (Functional):  Divide the compressor out of the main unit and place it outside the home.  Benefits include more space in the main unit, less heat generated in the kitchen, and easier to service the compressor.  Perhaps the compressor could be used to cool other things.

U-Line 5.  Main Unit (Physical):  Divide the entire refrigerator into many small boxes that are placed throughout the entire kitchen.  Perhaps part of the pantry is refrigerated.  Perhaps small drawers around the kitchen hold items (egg drawer, vegetable cabinet, beverage nook) to allow more functional access.  The kitchen does not have one storage unit, but rather many smaller ones that are integrated with other components and appliances.  This would allow complete customization of refrigeration within any kitchen.

I would consider this last idea as disruptive, one that could completely redefine the category as we know it.