An inventive modular refrigerator by Stefan Buchberger, a student at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in Austria, beat out more than 600 entries to win the Design Lab 2008 competition held by Electrolux Major Appliances.

Designed for people who live with several roommates, the Flatshare fridge consists of a base station and up to four individual stackable modules that allow each user to have his or her own refrigerator space. It can be customized with a variety of colorful skins, as well as with add-ons such as a bottle opener. Handles mounted on the side make it easy to move the modules.

"I got the idea to create the Flatshare fridge because, in many shared flats, there's a problem with the refrigerator," Buchberger says. "It gets filthy because no one person feels responsible for cleaning it." For his winning design, Buchberger received a prize of approximately $7,400 and a six-month internship at one of Electrolux's global design centers.

Buchberger's design won over the judges for its fresh interpretation of the fridge, but also because it has practical application in the real world. "This is a very relevant concept, with design solving 'stackability' and the 'multiple-user use,'" says Yves Béhar, founder of fuseproject, a San Francisco-based design studio. Béhar liked that it "stood out in color as well as design," adding that the ability to "personalize your Flatshare modules added an interesting emotional value."

"I like the idea of having a private space in a shared space, to avoid the conflict before it happens," says fellow judge Jiao Mo, founding partner and design director of Axis FormLAB.

Henrik Otto, senior vice president of global design at Electrolux and chair of the jury, calls the design a great insight that is well carried through in the concept development and process.

"A fridge is a tricky thing to reinvent," Otto says. "Flatshare, however, manages to be new in a fun and expressive way. A shared refrigerator is also very relevant from a consumer-insight perspective, managing to resolve the needs and wants of the target group. It has form and function as well as purpose. But most importantly, it has passion, poetry, and humor in its design. It makes me smile."

In its sixth year, the Design Lab is an annual competition that Electrolux uses as a means of discovering new talent; some of the concepts, features, and solutions developed by entrants may be used as inspiration for future product development or incorporated into the company's product innovation process.

"Design Lab is an innovation incubator," says Bob Martin, director of design for Electrolux Major Appliances North America. "Working with young designers provides inspiration for future home appliances and solutions, helping to ensure that we are always offering our retail partners relevant, cutting-edge, consumer-inspired products that really answer a need in the marketplace."

The 2008 competition challenged undergraduate and graduate industrial design students to look two to three years into the future and create home appliances for the Internet generation. The competition targeted brand-conscious, busy young professionals between the ages of 25 and 35 who are independent and concerned about the environment, and whose lives are intertwined with technology and online social networks. Entries were to address food storage, cooking, and washing.

The program yielded such designs as Sook, a social networking recipe generator with electronic tongue, by Adam Brodowski, Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia; Stratosphere, a sanitizing clothes rack/valet, by Atilla Safrani, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest in Hungary; Vesta, a foldaway cooktop with RFID scanner, by Matthias Pinkert, HTW Dresden (FH) University of Applied Sciences in Germany; and Drawer Kitchen, a desk-drawer hotplate and fridge, by Nojae Park, Chiba University in Japan.

The award for second place went to iBasket, by Guopeng Liang of Tongji University in Shanghai, China; third place went to Coox, by Antoine Lebrun of L'Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique in France.

Flatshare "appeals to the Internet generation because they are often mobile and focused on how to express themselves individually," says Blythe Reiss, vice president of communications for Electrolux Americas. "While Flatshare is purely a concept at the moment, it's a great idea for this generation and showcases the consumer-driven insight that we think is so vital to any successful appliance design."