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Opening up design

IKEA believes in a collaborative design process, from working with established designers and students to looking at new ideas like open source. ‘It’s smart thinking and togetherness that creates movements,’ says creative leader and range manager Karin Gustavsson.

Johanna Jelinek and Renée Rossouw  work on textile ideas.

As creative leader, Karin Gustavsson looks at bringing in outside talent to collaborate with designers at IKEA. ‘Älmhult is a place filled with creatives from all over the world and I love it,’ explains Karin. Even with all that diverse talent inside of it, the small town in which IKEA was founded is anything but a sealed box. ‘We’ve always wanted to reach out to curious people around us. That’s why we started to collaborate – to work with people who open our eyes, ask questions we hadn’t thought of and force us to move forwards.’

‘Working with ‘celebrity’ designers isn’t interesting in itself, it’s a learning process,’ adds Karin. Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek’s work on the new INDUSTRIELL collection was not his first time collaborating with IKEA, so what could a designer like Piet gain from working with IKEA? ‘Designs under my name are handmade at high quality, and in small volumes,’ says Piet. ‘Collaborating with IKEA was an opportunity to make products in bigger series – that way they become very affordable.’

Sometimes, collaborations take IKEA far from home. Last year, IKEA designers came together with African designers for Design Indaba in Cape Town. ‘This was a festival about opening up IKEA as an all-nation brand and not being afraid to blend with other influences, viewpoints, materials and techniques,’ says IKEA Group president, Jesper Brodin. The festival brought together designers from the two groups, like IKEA designer Kevin Gouriou and architect Issa Diabaté, to workshop ideas for a future collection based on rituals.

‘We’re looking at simplicity and accessibility. Pieces you can knock down, put under your arm and move on, because today we want that flexibility,’ said Issa, who collaborated with Kevin on plans for an open-source house, as well as other designs. ‘Could this house be flatpack? Could its blueprints be downloadable so you could build your version in Brazil or Norway with local materials?’

But you don’t have to be an established or well-known designer, to work with IKEA. The company regularly works with design schools and recently invited students from three countries to hack Tom Dixon’s new DELAKTIG sofa. ‘Student designers are also our customers, so they are crucial to developing our range. I like their fresh thinking and pure ideas,’ says Karin.

Still curious about IKEA design?

Every June, Älmhult opens its doors for Democratic Design Days – inviting journalists and influencers to see what designers have been working on and new collaborations.
Through IKEA Today you can also take part. Look out for more information.