Take control

30 Sep, 15

Showers must feature easy-to-use controls, which can be operated by multi-generations, states Philippa Turrell

While the focus of a shower is often the very visible design of the overhead, the controls are just as important in creating sensory bathing experiences. They have had to evolve to cater for a variety of flow patterns and outlets, as one showering style most definitely does not suit all. But most importantly, as the first point of user contact with a shower, controls have had to adapt to meet the needs of the changing demographics of a household. Shower controls are no longer designed to just be desirable and comprehendible for young executive DINKS (Dual Income No Kids), they must be easy to understand and operate by the whole family, which could include children or elderly parents. Marketing manager for Roca Group (UK) Georgina Spencer points out: “Consumers want their shower to be multi-functional and to offer varying spray options to suit each user. The increased in multi-generational occupancy means that the shower in the family bathroom needs to be easy to use by young and old.”

And the need for inclusive shower controls is only going to grow in importance for bathroom designers, specifiers and their customers, as multi-generational homes are on the rise. Young adults are leaving home later and young families are returning to their parents so they can save deposits for a home. Added to which, the increase in care costs also sees elderly parents move in with their children. In fact, such has been the change in household demographics, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2012 multi-generational homes were up 30% on the previous decade.


Digital follows electric

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Arguably electric showers have been at the vanguard of inclusive design, having long been served by push button on/off controls, clear rotary controls and back lit buttons. And, of course, digital showers – the avant-garde, premium cousin, has taken these features and further enhanced them. Think temperature changes by push button,  LED temperature displays, as well as programmable experiences that can be saved and operated remotely, if required. Director of marketing at AKW, James Dadd adds: “The  next big thing is smart showering. Electric and other types of showers are now becoming controlled by software that utilises touch-screen interfaces with technology, allowing showers to be turned on remotely from a bed or even automatically switching on when the user’s alarm goes off. Software is going to accelerate innovation.”

And Dadd believes as the selling prices fall, digital showers – as a share of the total showering market – is going to grow: “Latent mass market demand is clearly there but up until quite recently, the premium pricing of digital showers kept their sales at more modest levels.”

Joanne Savage, brand and design director of Aqualisa, agrees digital will be at the forefront of shower sales: “We’re seeing a gradual but distinct shift to digital that’s likely to increase over the next five years.” And she offers some figures: “The digital market increases every year, with an 8% value growth since 2010 and 4.7% growth predicted for 2015 versus 2014. Installers fully understand the benefits but there’s work for us to do with the consumer…As an industry we need to educate consumers as to the benefits.”

Yet not all industry experts agree digital is the future of inclusively-designed shower controls. Marketing director of Hansgrohe UK Noel Riley comments: “After a spate of high-tech wizardry, manufacturers are coming back to what consumers really want which is intuitive technology to make life easier and more comfortable, rather than gimmicks that require taking the instruction manual with you into the bathroom. Universal design is the answer, in other words thoughtfully-designed products that look great and are simple and intuitive to operate for all ages.”

Inclusive mixer controls

However, until fairly recently shower control options could have said to have been limited, as ‘less is more’ has ruled design from form through to serigraphy. However, the thermostatic mixer control has now adopted the use of inclusive controls, perhaps influenced by a prospective rush of digital shower sales? Hansgrohe recently introduced the Axor Citterio E Collection, which was designed by Antonio Citterio to be easy to use. Marketing director of Hansgrohe UK Noel Riley explains: “The designer was driven by the desire for easier operation – handles are easy to grasp and volume/temperature control are simple to understand.”

Coming to the fore of mixer shower controls, providing all-important universal design, is the push button. “The trend for push button, intuitive controls that are familiar and enjoyable to use is available across all market segments”, exclaims marketing director of Hansgrohe UK Noel Riley. The company introduced its Select push button shower controls at ISH in 2013 and almost immediately won a Most Wanted for being the highest requested bathroom product in the XXXXX issue. In fact, such has been the popularity for the push-button control, it has also recently added the technology to its bathroom and kitchen mixers.

And now Crosswater has introduced a shower with push button controls with its latest Dial shower model. Marketing co-ordinator of Crosswater, Laura weeks talks us through the technology: “Dial is the latest in push-button technology from Crosswater, which enables you to precisely control the flow of the water as well as the temperature.” She professes: “It is a step forward in on/off operation and water flow control technology at the touch of a button and will set a new benchmark in bathroom design, changing the function of showering and bathing control.”


Exposed or concealed

Certainly shower controls have a greater role than ever before not only helping users how to use ever-increasingly complex showering kit. Helen Smallridge, product group manager for mixer showers at Heritage Bathrooms, says: “Consumers increasingly want to have the option of two outlets form the shower, a shower rose and a handset. Ideally these need to be able to work simultaneously.”

But shower valves also have to suit a variety of installations, and price brackets, which may see consumers opt for a concealed or an exposed option.Marketing manager at Abode Helen Clark says concealed shower valves are growing in popularity but adds: “At the lower to mid-markets, there might be a greater consideration for the installation and perhaps, working around what fittings currently exist, so here exposed thermostatic bar valves tend to be popular as they are quicker and simpler to install and easy to change, in many cases.” And sales director at Vado Dean Pamphilon agrees: “The most popular type of shower for Vado, and the fastest-selling category, is concealed two-way thermostatic shower valves. Vado has found that at the lower end of the market will tend to opt for exposed shower valves.”

However there has been moves in the mid-market to provide shower valves with more added value than those at the lower end. Product manager at Methven UK, Barbara Osborne explains: “As the market has grown, the mid-level market has also expanded and bar shower with additional benefits, such as cool-to-touch technology have become more popular, along with the opportunity to upgrade from bar showers with one outlet to ones with a diverter from fixed head to handset.”

But, good news for the bathroom designer and specifier, universal design crosses both of these, as Noel Riley of Hansgrohe points out: “Our best-selling Croma shower line for entry to mid-market, for example, now features the Select button.”

Eco built in

Of course, universal design and multiple outlets will continue to be a focus of shower control design, as well as the ability to perform effectively but with less water. In fact Noel Riley says “products with integrated water-efficient technologies contribute about 25% of net sales. Showers are our most popular water-efficient products.” But he believes energy-saving (now shown on the European Water Label) and sustainable production will also come into play “even micro measures such as ‘embedded water’ which considers not only how much water a shower or tap uses when in use, but also how much water was required as part of the production process to make it.” He says the building industry is already there “but end consumers too will begin to engage”.

The shower valve is not subordinate to the shower head, in fact it could be argued it is even more important. So when selecting and specifiying a shower kit for a project – take control.

This feature first appeared in Kitchens & Bathrooms News September 2015 issue