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How Ideo Revamped The Common Mattress For Sealy, And Made It Stand Out

In revamping the outdated Sealy brand, Ideo wondered, How do customers know that they're buying the most supportive mattress on the market unless they can actually see the difference?

If you’ve ever walked into a mattress showrom, you know that the only way to buy a mattress is to lie down on it. For the most part, they all look the same—like flattened marshmallows. That’s also a challenge for the salesperson. How do you convince a customer to pay more for a mattress when there aren’t outward physical differences? That was one of the challenges Ideo addressed while rebranding Sealy’s Posturepedic line, which now conveys its core message—that its mattresses are good for your back—with features that both consumers and retailers can see from the outside.

After Ideo’s successful refresh of Sealy’s Stearns and Foster, the company decided to try to do the same with its faltering Posturepedic collection. "Like a lot of solid, long-term brands, they eventually lost their drawing power," says Michael Hendrix, an associate partner at Ideo’s Boston office. "With Posturepedic, it was pretty innovative when it came out in the 1950s, and like a lot of brands at the time, they were using health-care professionals to endorse the products."

Today, most consumers don’t buy beds on the advice of orthopedic surgeons. Although some may have the misfortune of visiting an orthopedic surgeon, many consult an entire ecosystem of experts—from chiropractors and acupuncturists to personal trainers—to strengthen their entire bodies and ensure spinal alignment. So Ideo took a different tack: bolstering Posturepedic’s claim to the most supportive mattresses on the market by adding more support where people need it most, at their hips. "We said, ‘Let’s do two things: Let’s put more supportive foam in that area, and let’s do a tighter quilt pattern in that area," Hendrix says. "You get a better sensation of support there, along with the functional benefit. You see the performance benefits from the structure."

The improved performance can also be seen in extra features like a wraparound handle for easy lifting, even from the corners, and a rubber surface on the bottom of the top mattress to grip sheets and keep them from creeping up over your feet. To further differentiate Posturepedic from the sea of mattresses in Sleepy’s, Ideo used color, a light blue for the foundation and white for the top comfort layer. "If you look at the classic Eames lounge and ottoman, you’ve got the walnut shell with another interior," Hendrix says. "It’s the same contrast—there’s that strong support on the outside and there’s comfort on the inside." The colors were chosen to appeal for their familiarity to a mainstream audience: The light blue was inspired by the classic light-blue men’s shirt, and white was chosen to evoke fluffy, fresh clouds.

In the end, a lot of the design work came down to figuring out ways to make the benefits visible to the consumer. "A mattress is kind of ironic: It’s a black box, even though it’s more like a marshmallow," Hendrix says. "The key is to bring features into a bed that a customer can see to understand the value."

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  • AWOL_Andy

    IDEO: Lets see... a squiggly pattern top, a big blue strap on the sides...that will be 1 million dollars please.

  • KPR

    For anyone who claims that things like mattresses need no design attention I ask, "Why not?" Why shouldn't a company like Sealy be empowered to pay a group of talented people like the ones at IDEO to make their product better? We humans spend a third of our lives on a mattress and I'll be damned if I spend a third of my life on something that's uncomfortable or poorly designed.

    Sure, part of the exercise was done in order to help Sealy differentiate. But they also added some functional features as well. Change happens incrementally. Kudos to both companies for the effort.   

  • murliman

    Getting a good night's rest has more to do with the state of one's mind, and one's body than with the state of one's mattress. American mattresses, like 5000 sq ft McMansions, are grossly over designed. You're supposed to believe that you can sleep well once you get one of these gigantic contraptions. They try to impress you with the science and engineering that went into the design of springs and so forth. Artfully illustrated cutaway. Drawings try to convince you that you're making the right decision.

    Well, mattress design does keep people employed. IDEO is among my favourite organisations. But if they really applied design thinking here, they'd be talking about mind in addition to body. This wasn't design thinking: this was just mattress rejiggering.

  • Marc

    I think mattresses should be designed to help us stay healthy and not to sell more. I've been through my fair share of mattresses and 99% of them are pure crappy fluff. You only start to seek out the right mattress when you have health problems but then it is already too late. If I could I would sue all mattress manufactures for not putting out healthy products for the sake of profit. 

    To make matters worse, you go to a doctor because you have back problems and they never ask on what you are sleeping. They prescribe your drugs or cut you open. Not very smart!  

  • test account

    By how much did the sales of  Posturepedic increase?
    That would be real test of the effectiveness of the entire exercise.

  • Steven Frisch

    The key is for Sealy to team up with PETA and market the mattress and going vegan jointly. Both improve your performance! 

  • @eseoraka

     “The key is to bring features into a bed that a customer can see to understand the value.” it appears they achieved that, speaking for myself. Go IDEO!

  • murliman

    Seriously -- human beings, indeed, all organisms, have been sleeping comfortably, for what, hundreds of millions of years. This is sheer over-engineering, designing stuff that requires no designing.  Like toothpaste: who needs a new toothpaste? iPad, iPhone, cars, televisions, yes ... those need a lot of design attention. Not mattresses. Meh.

  • Muriman

    @Bondoict - point taken. Yes, American mattresses are like junk food. They're trying to convince us to buy stuff we don't need, by making it seem high tech. Recent research has shown that seemingly high-tech running shoes actually are more likely to injure one's feet than running barefoot. To me, these mattresses are like uber-expensive running shoes

  • BondoICT

    Your first two sentences are exactly why the mattress needs design attention!

  • Jake Wells

    Either you've never in your life slept on a shitty mattress or you've never slept on an amazing mattress. Try both, then you will see why mattresses need to be designed.

  • jcott

    Why didn't they carry the handles all around the end so that they would actually be usable?

  • kylehayes

    For many a consumer, seeing is believing. Kudos to IDEO for understanding the importance of communicating value in a visual way to that the differentiating features that set this set this product apart, are easily seen, therefore understood. Good job!