“The world is changing faster outside Ikea than it is changing within Ikea,” says Kaave Pour, … [+]
Courtesy of Space10; Photographer Nikolaj Thaning Rentzmann
Like all businesses, Ikea wants to create a better future for the company, its employees, business partners, and its customers. And as the world’s largest home furnishings retailer, that depends on creating better products and services for the home, or more specifically, how people will live, work, and play in their homes.
“A better home creates a better everyday life,” is Ikea’s defining mission.
Most other home furnishings companies are focused on styles and designs to decorate and use in the home – things for the home. What sets Ikea apart is its focus on understanding how consumers will live in their homes in order to create the things people will need to live happily there – the experience of home life.
To that end, Ikea aggressively pursues market research. For the past seven years, it has conducted a Life at Home project to understand what home means to consumers, the latest covering home life in 35 countries. Unlike other companies which tend to use market research to reinforce existing beliefs, Ikea uses those insights to propel innovation.
Innovation is one of Ikea’s core competencies, which it leverages expertly in product development and retail store experiences. But the company also knows its limitations. It is not a technology company, yet Ikea recognizes technology in the connected home is the key to unlock better lives for people all around the world.
So it collaborates with Stockholm-based Space10, a research and design lab, that puts the best creative minds to work to envision new ways to create a better everyday life for people. Many of those ways are technology-enabled.
“The world is changing faster outside Ikea than it is changing within Ikea,” says Kaave Pour, director and co-founder of Space10.
“Ikea does amazing innovations within the company, but they want to ensure they were not thinking of innovation too much within a silo vacuum,” he continues and adds, “As an independent firm operating outside the current frame of Ikea, we help Ikea as a concept and a brand look into the future to stay relevant for how the world is developing.”
For five years, Space10 has been Ikea’s guide to the future. It’s worked on wide-ranging projects from solar energy that would democratize access to clean energy and one on the future of food resulting in a cookbook.
It’s latest project is called Everyday Experiments, which through a series of 18 experiments, asks and tries to answer the question, “How will tomorrow’s technologies redefine the way we live at home?”
A common theme that runs through all Ikea collaborative projects with Space10 is playfulness. “We ask why so much research has to be so damn boring,” Pour says. “We believe play and imagination is critical to translate important topics, like how technology will define how we live at home, into something that people can relate to and get excited by.”
The latest series of experiments are even more groundbreaking because of how they were born: in each team members’ home, rather than in shared office space due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
This brings a unique home-centric perspective to the project. “Most times when we design homes, we design them from offices. This project was designed from home, the place where we sleep, eat, work, teach our children, exercise, socialize, and find a private space,” he continues.
Turning the business of innovation into child’s play
In most companies, R&D is carried on in secret with the doors flung open only when successful products come to market. No one knows how much of the $2 trillion invested globally in R&D ever sees the light of day.
Ikea, on the other hand, takes a completely different view. It opens up R&D and lets people see into the process.
“We go in the opposite direction. The strategy for us is democratic science,” Pour explains. “We want to democratize access to the signposts of discovery. The results sometimes are weird, or quirky, but always playful. We want to excite people around how we build and design the future of home, rather than trying to protect our ideas.”
Some of the experiments on display fall into the weird, quirky category, like the visualization of how sound travels in a room or the “elephant in the room” that takes over space.
But each clearly hints at a marketable solution: audio speakers that detect how best to project sound in a home space and an app that automatically takes the measurements of a room.
“Ikea has always tried to flip the experience on its head, starting with the physical store, where you can actually see show rooms for living or the restaurant where a family can eat before, during or after shopping,” he continues.
“Now over the next decade we are going to see a big shift. Rather than people coming to Ikea, it’s going to be Ikea coming to you,” Pour says.
This suggests innovation projects for Space10 to work on. “If Ikea needs to come to you, what does it mean in terms of how Ikea looks and feels? How do we show and communicate with you in that world and what do we leave you with? Our job is to ask a lot of questions and help Ikea navigate the answers to those questions,” Pour says.
Pour believes that because of Ikea’s unique corporate philosophy and values, it is uniquely suited to asking those questions and designing solutions that it can profitably sell.
“Ikea’s business model is to provide solutions that build better homes and support life’s activities. It’s going to be easier for us to take a hard stand on what we believe is right for people because that is ingrained in the entire way we do business,” Pour shares.
Imagining the home of the future
Technology is going to be the real game changer in the home of the future, as computing has evolved from something done on the desktop to mobile where computing is carried with you.
“The new era of technology will be spatial computing,” Pour believes. “It will be unbundled into the space around us, whether through augmented reality, or sensors in products like light bulbs or cookers. We are looking for solutions that Ikea can do better than anyone else because of our knowledge and history in the home space.”
As a global retailer, Ikea must address the many ways people in different cultures relate to their homes, decorate them, and use them. That can be a daunting task for a company that operates in more than 30 countries.
But the essential insight that grounds Space10’s research is the recognition that there are more similarities than differences in how people live, no matter where they live.
“If we look at India or the U.S., we find that there are a lot of essential needs that are the same. People still need access to energy and water. People still need to cook food, sleep, and feel safe and secure. These are the foundational values that we believe Ikea can develop through multiple solutions,” Pour says.
Values guide Ikea’s vision
“The frustrating part about the future is it keeps moving, and no one knows where it is going,” Pour asserts. “What’s more, there isn’t one future, but billions of individual futures. Our challenge is how to operate in that chaotic and complex environment. The way we’ve found to navigate the future is based on the values we are pursuing.”
So Ikea and Space10 work together to design the home of tomorrow by focusing on one goal: Creating a better everyday life by enabling people to create better homes. And to do that, it requires thinking more broadly than styles, colors, functionality, and practicality like so many other companies in the home vertical space focus on.
“Ours is an aspirational vision of what the home of tomorrow can be. To get there, we’ve got to poke a lot of holes in the bubble, even though sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable,” Pour concludes.