Reinventing the Dish Rack: An Interview with the Dorai Research & Design Team
With the updated Dorai Dish Rack shipping in September, we thought it would be a perfect time to revisit the process of ‘reinventing’ an archaic kitchen staple with the Dorai team. We sat down with co-founder Kelsey and lead designer Aaron to reflect on key decisions, challenges, surprises, and improvements that shaped the beloved dish rack that SOLD OUT within months of launching. Dorai Dish Racks will be shipping the first 2 weeks of September and they won’t last, so grab yours today, and experience what all the hype is about.
What inspired the design features of the Dorai Dish Rack?
Kelsey - The initial ‘desirable features list’ came from our experience as designers, and the mindset to question how things are made and if it’s optimal for the user (that’s my disposition as a user-experience designer). You can look at the marketplace and see what’s working well and identify where there are big opportunities.
Some key themes we recognized:
- In many kitchens, the dish rack is an augmentation of the dishwasher which drastically changes the functionality. Most dish racks have just inherited structural queues from predecessors.
- Most homes are frequently using and hand washing the same items such as pots, pans, cutting boards, knives, glasses, bottles, and plastics. We need to provide a structural base that accommodates these items and ideally can be somewhat modular.
- Tight corners and enclosed spaces will eventually get gross despite how clean people are and should be avoided.
Many of our hypotheses were validated by design research involving surveys and people submitting images of their current Dish Rack ‘situation’. I synthesize these with my thoughts and discuss with Aaron who works his magic to integrate visually pleasing approaches to support the necessary function. He comes up with interesting approaches I could never imagine how to bring the required features into the Dorai product design language.
Aaron - Yes, well said Kelsey. Early on we were learning through research and starting to understand that the demographic we were going to be targeting (a bit higher-end, higher socio-economic level of a customer) tend to have dishwashers that capture most of the typical dishware/plates/silverware in a household, but extra kitchen instruments and utensils overflow onto the counter for cleaning and drying needs. The key insight was that our Dish Rack should be designed to specifically accommodate the kitchen extras (like pots and pans, utensils, knives, cutting boards, etc) while still supporting typical dishes as a secondary move. Moving forward with this insight, we could spend considerable brainpower and ideation effort on getting it right - making sure the dish rack accommodated the kitchen extras mentioned above.
In a classic form-follows-function process, we had our mission (the function of focusing on accessories) and then engaged in a deep dive aesthetic exploration - inspired by Japanese design and minimalism with a twist, in addition to Mid-Century Modern sensibilities. We respected a thorough design process - let the process do its magic and converge on a synthesis of all functional criteria - and in the end, the ‘process’ delivered a beautiful result where the design features we wanted meld seamlessly into a dynamic look and fresh take on the Dish Rack genre.
How long did it take to go from idea to shipping the Dorai Dish Rack?
Kelsey - About a year and a half, with some pauses early on. We started thinking about the dish rack in the summer of 2018 but had to shift our focus to the Bath Stones and brand awareness before we could invest in proper design and prototyping. We dedicated more time and resources in the fall of 2018 and finalized design in early 2019. Engineering worked quickly to get our first prototype in March for an extremely quick turnaround for photos in April and a Kickstarter launch in May. We pushed aggressively to ship out at the end of 2019 in time for Christmas.
What’s your favorite thing about the Dorai Dish Rack?
Aaron - I love that it does its job so well. It really does all the things it claims. And it does them with style, grace, sophistication, and minimalism. In my opinion, the design looks fairly effortless considering how much functionality is packed into the punch.
Specifically, the innovation of introducing the Diomat as the drying element into the dish rack genre is still my favorite part. You don’t have to think about the water (draining, or standing, or dripping - nothing!) The draining water is truly out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
Kelsey - I love the cutting board holder, it’s so unique and I use it for lids and things that would always take up way too much room and require careful balancing work in the past.
What were the biggest challenges in the research Kelsey? How about in the design Aaron?
Kelsey - Sometimes in research, you have to decipher which behaviors will change if a new solution is offered and which behaviors are fixed. For instance, we saw that about 50% of the submitted photos were using just a hand towel or foam pad. This was also what we were using in our home. Upon digging deeper you realize even if you make the best dish rack in the world, some people simply don’t want something on their counter. At this point, we had to decide if we wanted to exclude them or make a compact offering (spoiler - we did!) with the risk of possibly cannibalizing some customers. We discussed it as a team and took a risk that panned out and resulted in 2 stellar products to meet both ends of the market.
Aaron - I think the design came together fairly easily because we maintained a really solid and thorough process incorporating all of the methods in a design process that lead to success - things like cardboard mock-ups, rough prototypes, scaled 3D drawing studies, a ton of ideation on each element, testing of concepts, the establishment of a strong aesthetic underpinning in the Wabi-Sabi philosophy and looking broadly and both competitors and inspiration, understanding the market landscape very well. When all of these things are present, in addition to a talented and enthusiastic team, good design materializes naturally. I think Jason will agree that where the bigger challenges start to surface is working with manufacturers to try and maintain the design vision that we know is possible, but it takes a lot of effort to educate the production team, and there are compromises that have to be carefully calculated and implemented. This part of the product development process isn’t always copacetic, but with the Dorai Dish Rack (which we knew was going to be a challenge), it went really well. Jason and Kelsey’s dedication to quality resulted in a very successful and beautiful outcome. It’s definitely a design to be proud of.
Also… the knives! The knives were a big challenge trying to figure out how to accommodate them in a safe and efficient on the Dish Rack. The knives were probably our biggest design challenge, but you wouldn’t think that looking at the result because it looks so simple and effortless. I’m happy with how the knife accessory ended up.
Which came first, the Dish Rack or the Dish Pad?
Kelsey - I’m amazed how quickly the team brought my low-quality sketch for a Dish Pad into a beautiful product. From the research and the trend of minimal countertops I thought we could have some kind of a fold-up drying surface that was similar to a hand towel. I provided a requirements doc to Aaron in January of 2019 and we somehow had a prototype by February which is unheard of and speaks to his strong instincts and the efficiencies of the team.
Now that it’s been in customer’s homes for about 9 months, what have you learned?
Kelsey - I’m surprised how many people hand wash their plates and silverware, this is something I missed in research. We wanted to take a stand in creating the ‘modern dish rack’, but many people prefer to run their dishwashers less frequently. Fortunately, we made a last-minute improvement to better accommodate plates but could have done a better job with the utensil holder. We’ve since updated it and hope to solve some concerns.
Aaron - I still think it’s quite an impressive product. I’ve learned that we do indeed NEVER place traditional plates and glasses on it to dry, it’s always packed with those ‘kitchen extras’. I think what I’ve learned we have already implemented in a 2.0 update, such as the longer Diomat, and the offering of a second side rail. I’m just looking forward to the next products in the Dorai family!
What changes did you make based on these learnings to improve the next version?
Kelsey - We’ve added more metal to the utensil holder to better contain objects without fully trapping in moisture. The diatomaceous earth base has been extended about an inch to provide a little more real estate under the cups for tall objects to drip on. We’ve employed a new plating process that sits under a thicker powder coating to improve the integrity of the paint over time, (something we didn’t observe in our initial testing period). Lastly, based on customer feedback we now have the option to order an extra crossbar to close in both of the long sides if desired.
Who does the dishes in your house and why?
Aaron - To be honest, my wife does most of the dishes (we have split duties there and I do the laundry). She is the queen of the kitchen but lets me cook dinner a few nights a week. But we both use the Dorai Dish Rack a ton for all those kitchen incidentals (that’s the word I’ve been looking for!) She likes it very much.
Kelsey - I wish I was a better delegator but with the dirty dishes, I’m far too OCD to let others load them because of inherent spatial inefficiencies. I have a very precise way I like things loaded that helps ensure everything gets cleaned and we maximize the load. I tend to have a hard time sitting still so I don’t mind it most nights unless I’m really tired because it’s impossible for me to go to bed with dishes in the sink, it’s something I’m trying to work on as a personal challenge ;)
What ideas do you have for the Dorai Dish Rack in the future?
Aaron - Dorai Utensils and a Utensil holder
Kelsey - Narrow Dorai bases that go on the floor under the dishwasher to capture any dripping between the sink and machine. I always keep a rag there and it looks scrappy.
Why are the prices going up on the updated Dish Rack?
Kelsey - A portion of the price increase is a result of the current global climate and changes to material costs, carrier fees, and tariffs. Another external factor is the process required to make the Dish Racks to our standards is more expensive than we were originally quoted because each metal rack has to be laser cut versus stamped from a large tool. We decided during the first production run for the sake of speed to absorb the extra laser cutting costs in order to get the products here before Christmas. In our second production run, we discovered the stamping method was not to our standards and we would need to implement laser cutting as our default process moving forward. This adds costs that we didn’t anticipate in our original pricing but we know the quality will be worth it and have heard very positive feedback from our earliest customers!