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Ikea’s Newest Designers Are College Kids

The Swedish furniture brand is working with students to develop a “hackable” sofa–an approach that signals a shift in its design strategy.

Last year, Ikea teamed up with acclaimed British designer Tom Dixon to create a transformable sofa that evolves alongside its users. The goal? Create a product with longevity. It’s an attribute that hasn’t always been the Swedish furniture company’s primary concern, but the new Delaktig sofa–along with other recent changes to its product lines–is emblematic of the brand’s interest in staying power.

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To develop the sofa’s design–it’s essentially a platform with clip-on accessories like tables, armrests, and lighting–Ikea and Dixon collaborated with 20 students from the Parsons School of Design, in New York. It’s a reciprocal relationship: Ikea gets a jolt of fresh, creative ideas, and the students receive valuable industry experience they wouldn’t normally get in the classroom.

During a four-day studio, the students worked closely with Dixon; Ikea’s head of design, Marcus Engman; and James Fuchter, a creative leader at Ikea. They sketched ideas for accessories that could be used on the platform and different applications for the sofa bed. At the conclusion of the workshop, the students presented their ideas to Ikea knowing that if something caught the brand’s eye, it might go into production. (Though the students retain intellectual property over their work.)

Parsons isn’t the only design school Ikea has tapped to inform the sofa; it also hosted workshops with the Royal College of Art, in London, and the Musashino Art University, in Tokyo.

The design, and the range of creative minds that have contributed to its development, are examples of Ikea’s quest to work more like a software company by embracing open-source thinking. Compared to other industries, the furniture business doesn’t have as rapid of an innovation cycle, which can lead to stagnation. Adopting a more proactive process could help Ikea create products that are fresh and exciting, and keep the Swedish brand ahead of the curve.

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In this exclusive video, we go behind the scenes to see how Dixon, Engman, and Parsons students are designing one of the most experimental products at the company to date.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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