Redefined kitchen ventilation emerges from technical challenges

Broan-Nutone, a leading provider of home ventilation products, gave Design Central what seemed like a dare: Develop a downdraft system that would be simultaneously sleek and silent—and make it more effective at capturing a cooking plume, too. Engineers will understand the challenge here. These systems pull cooking plumes downward, and all systems get louder as they get thinner, especially if more air is pulled through them. But we were up to the task, collaborating with Broan to marry design with engineering and create a fully functioning prototype that Broan could take to trade shows to capture the attention of high-end consumers. Dare accepted.

  • Broan-Nutone
  • Consumer
  • Strategy
  • Research
  • Product Design
  • Engineering
  • Prototyping
  • User Experience

Objective: Explore possibilities for a more effective downdraft system with a modern design and low profile.

Marketplace research influences adaptable design

Much of our work throughout the project was evaluative. We wanted not only to examine what competitors were doing but understand what design elements were needed for the downdraft to blend across different installation configurations. A more adaptable design also meant Broan could potentially brand the product for its partners. In order to elevate the downdraft in the market, we suggested pursuing an H or bridge design, with two thin connected columns pulling air downward. Exposed filters are often an eyesore, so we hid them inside. We also put user experience to work in the design of the capacitive glass touch controls.

Engineering tackles capture, efficiency, sound and size challenges

Our engineers began with low-end validation, using foam core prototypes to explore the size and configuration of the air tunnels the plume is pulled into and to ensure we were headed in the right direction in terms of creating a more efficient product. Much of the work surrounded sound quality, too. The downdraft was designed to rise up from behind a stove with the push of a button. What sound will the motor creating that motion make? How can the airflow noise be dampened inside the panels? We worked through these questions, eventually developing an alpha prototype that captured significantly more cooking plume than the average downdraft and would influence Broan’s continued pursuit of an innovative downdraft system.