When shopping for a cell phone, do you put display models to your ear or pretend to dial? It may seem silly, but everyone's done it and appliance manufacturers believe there's more to these actions than you might realize. “Something as simple as knob style is a very big decision for consumers — it's akin to finding the right computer keyboard,” says Elaine Chaney, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Dacor.

Knowing that, Dacor and other companies are offering controls that are both stylish and highly functional. The new illuminated knob design on Dacor's Epicure line, for instance, glows blue around the edge any time the burner is on. “It's a visually appealing color and from a technical perspective, this was inspired by our desire to make ranges safer,” Chaney says. “Whether the burner is on a simmer or a boil, the indicator light lets you know that, no matter where you are in the vicinity of the range.”

Other sleek controls blend simplicity with sophistication. “High-end consumers are interested in high-feature content, but want those features presented to them in a way that's easy to understand and packaged in a sophisticated — as opposed to a ‘busy'— aesthetic,” says Andy Spanyer, GE product manager, of the dial controls on GE Monogram wall ovens. While touchscreens and keypads seem technically advanced, Spanyer says most consumers reject the “hunting-and-pecking method” to set their ovens. “Less can be more if it's packaged in a better way,” he says.

At Kenmore, knob design also means surveying the home-chef landscape. With cooking gaining more interest among men, the company's new PRO line features stainless steel construction and heavy-duty knobs that appeal to both masculine and feminine kitchen aesthetics. While advanced technology operates behind the scenes, manufacturers agree that traditional knob-style controls will remain a culinary staple.