Indian Kitchen: A Smokey Case Study

A Fun Design Thinking Exercise

Imagine you are entertaining guests for dinner in your place and the whole drawing room is filled with smoke and smell of fried food, especially non-veg food. Though everyone loves fried food, not everyone would be fond of the smell that lingers…

Before I go further, I must first mention the objective of this whole exercise is ‘Design Thinking’. So in the article I will be focusing on the users and there experiences and try to find their struggles and pain points and also a possible solution to that problem.

The Design Process that I’ll follow

Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. There is no defined recipe to follow in specific order, while using these five design thinking processes. These can be repeated iteratively and act as an ingredient that contributes to a project. However, I will use the spice called “empathize” in the beginning.

STEP 1: EMPATHIZE not sympathize

“If you want to build a product that’s relevant to people, you need to put your feet in their shoes.”

To begin the design process it is very important to understand the people we are designing for. We need to empathize with them to understand their needs, thoughts, emotions and motivations. Here we will connect with the users and try to understand there perspective.

A very effective method to know a user is “user interview”. With a proper set of questions and a pinch of empathy, we can gain insights into what they need, what they want, how they behave, feel & think while interacting with a product, in this case a kitchen.

1:1 interview

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION My strategy while forming the questionnaire is to brainstorm all the aspects associated with the kitchen first and form questions according to the themes that would include all the aspects related to a kitchen , for e.g. cooking, washing, ventilations, waste disposal, equipment etc. A good structure will not only guide the interview but also help to target, specific areas of information to direct the design thinking process.

Tip: Try to ask broad open ended questions, be a listener and let the user speak.

Example of a few Questions I planned to ask the users.

1. Please explain your interaction with the kitchen on the daily basis. How often do you use the kitchen and your work flow?

2. What are the major equipment/gadgets that you use in the kitchen that you interact with? How often are your interactions?

3. Please explain in detail the location of your kitchen with respect to natural lighting and ventilation.

4. What unforeseen problems do you face in the day to day basis in your kitchen?

5. What is the best thing and the worst thing according to you in the kitchen.

These are the few broad questions I asked to evoke their thoughts about their experiences, in and around the kitchen. This would certainly be followed by the follow up questions to dig deeper into their experiences.

There are instances when a user is so used to a certain way of using things, that he takes the problem for granted and make way around that problem instead of solving it. So a full proof follow up questioning would bring the pain point out.

Based on the insights from the interview, I made the users personas to help me step out of my own apron. Different people have different needs and expectations, personas can help us identify those. It guide us to the ideations process, helping to create a good user experience for the target user.

User:1 Persona
User:2 Persona
User:3 Persona

STEP 2: DEFINE if u understand

“The Define mode of the design process is all about bringing clarity and focus to the design space. It is your chance, and responsibility, as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context.”

We will start with writing the problems that we wish to solve from the user’s perspective. And then frame a problem statement basis of what we have learnt from Empathize stage.

Problems I could sketch

The ventilation is not enough, even with a chimney.
The cleaning of the under the kitchen slab is very difficult due to storage.
There is a problem of pests in certain seasons.

Out of all the problems, the problem of proper ventilation was quite prominent and common for all the users. Point to be noted is that all the users had a different ventilation setup, first user had only window, second had an exhaust fan and the third user had a chimney. As Indian style of cooking generates a lot of smoke in the initial phase, even a chimney was not enough to tackle the excess smoke.

Why is it important to the user?
Because the excess smoke is filled in the whole house, making it difficult to breathe sometimes. Also it is very irritating to eyes and throat as it has become a common occurrence.

It also become very embarrassing when there is a guest in the house.

An adult living with family needs to prepare food in the kitchen without the worry of the excess smoke in the house in order not to make the people of the house uncomfortable.

STEP 3: IDEATE and spit out

This is the stage when we will start thinking of solutions to the user problem(s) and generate ideas.

Crazy 8's Method
Crazy 8’s is a core Design Sprint method. It is a fast sketching exercise that challenges people to sketch eight distinct ideas in eight minutes. The goal is to push beyond your first idea, frequently the least innovative, and to generate a wide variety of solutions to your challenge.

Crazy 8’s (took me a bit more than 8 minutes to sketch)

Extending chimney and efficient exhaust system: The users have a rented house it is not possible for them to install a permanent chimney. As the smoke rise up in the kitchen, a more efficient exhaust would be able to pull the smoke out of the kitchen. Also it is more easy to install in comparison to an existing chimney.

STEP 4: Build A Scrappy PROTOTYPE

One of the best ways to gain insights in a Design Thinking process is to carry out some form of prototyping. This method involves producing an early, inexpensive, and scaled down version of the product in order to reveal any problems with the current design. Prototyping offers designers the opportunity to bring their ideas to life, test the practicability of the current design, and to potentially investigate how a sample of users think and feel about a product.

At this stage typically the most relevant ideas are translated into design experiences. Narrowing down on the best possible idea or a culmination of the best ideas.

Close to a SOLUTION

The chimney in the Indian market are mostly designed as per western standards which rarely caters to the Indian cuisine. I have redesigned the chimney to make it more effective for the Indian Cooking.

1. Most of the users live in rented houses, so they cannot install any permanent appliances.
2. Most of the smoke comes in the initial min. of the cooking process as all the spices are added in the oil also called the “chhokh” process.

I designed a portable, folding kitchen Chimney, that can retract and extend over the gas stove/cooking utensil without much effort, as per need.

The solution has 3 parts that cater to the need of different Kitchen setups.

Window Attachment

Window Attachment
This solution is apt for the users who do not have an existing chimney. I have designed a foldable chimney that can be attached to an exhaust fan and placed over the stove. A flexible Aluminum duct is attached to that exhaust fan which throws the smoke out via an exhaust window.
The flexible Aluminum duct and exhaust fan is easily available in the market.

Existing Chimney Attachment

Chimney Attachment
This solution is apt for the users who have an existing chimney. The foldable chimney can be attached to an existing chimney and can be extended over the stove making it more effective in sucking the smoke.

The new design concept in use


At this stage typically we test our ideas, translated into prototypes with our end users and get their feedback and further refine and iterate on them if required.

The user felt that approach used was up to the point. User liked the insights used, i.e. the consideration of rented house and the smoke appear in the beginning of cooking. User thought that the solution presented was very effective in curbing the smoke problem. Had concerns about cleaning though.

User2(4.0/5): The user found the solution very effective. The retractable part was very innovative and the whole solution was marketable. Had a bit confusion about the installation part.

User3(4.0/5): The user found the solution very innovative and unique. Also thought the solution fits her requirement as the fitting is retractable it also neatly fits in the kitchen. The user was a bit skeptical about the material and weight of the system.


Design thinking is a very useful tool which is an amalgamation of both process and people. Whether we are talking about a home or an industry or a store front customer one common thing is that, they all are people looking for a solution to their problems. And only by understanding the people we can actually design for them. We can think of it as either a human solution to an engineering problem, or an engineering solution to a human problem.

Design thinking today is a powerful framework for innovation, collaboration, and product/process improvement, whichever industry you be in.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Vivek Banra

Designer/ Storyteller /Traveler/ Visual Artist/Marathon Runner