Working together in new ways to meet the needs of a changing world
The way people live is changing, and so is the way IKEA designs furniture. More people are living alone than ever before. On the flip side of that, lots of people are living with extended family. At the same time, the size of people's homes is shrinking, putting added pressure on every square metre to be useful and multifunctional. To tackle these challenges and come up with a great seating solution for today's world, the designers at IKEA decided to try something different. They invited many people, from different walks of life, to work on the project together, right from the beginning. The result? VALLENTUNA—a sofa that embodies the concepts of comfort and flexibility for the modern world.
“What do we mean with flexibility? What type of flexibility is it that we actually need?” The person asking is Jerry Svensson, a product developer for sofas. He’s repeating one of the questions he and his teammates wrestled with when they got together to kick off the creation of VALLENTUNA.
Doing things differently
It was a big team—bigger than usual—and the reason was clearly stated in the outline for the first workshop. "We want to work and create... together, taking advantage of different perspectives. It is about creating and illustrating as many ideas as possible."
In the core design team alone, everyone came to the project from different living situations: a home with young children in a small town; a family with teenage sons; a place in the city where the dog is part of the family. Jerry brings the experience of a single person to the table—living in a small flat near work on weekdays and travelling to his home on the coast for weekends, where he often has friends stay in his tiny 15 m2 guest house.
In all, five different nationalities—American, Dutch, Lithuanian, Polish and Swedish—were involved right from the start. An array of professional skillsets was on hand too, including engineers, product developers, technicians, and sales experts.
Understanding the reality of our world
In order to create a great sofa, all the ideas that poured from this diverse group had to be grounded in research too. IKEA has a whole department dedicated to researching and understanding people's lives at home. Their findings, along with other data, are used to make products that answer up to reality.
“In Russia, for example,” explains Jerry, “there isn’t even a word for a sofa that doesn’t explain it as a piece of furniture which is also a bed." This is, in part, the result of standardised housing that's still used today. Many people in Russia and Poland create "24-hour rooms", spaces that are used all around the clock for living, storage and sleeping. "For me it’s nice to have a sofa bed," says Jerry. "But, for someone in Russia or Poland it’s a need to have a really comfortable bed in the sofa.”
Living up to people's wants and needs
Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to buy a double sofa bed when all you need is space for a single sleeper? What about if you could create a more private space with extra tall backrests? Imagine being able to cover each piece of your seating in a different colour or pattern, creating a style combination that's uniquely you. These are some of the thoughts that came out of the great big collaborative creation process for making a truly flexible and comfortable sofa. The end result lives up to all of them, and more.
Worth the effort
Collaborative design is challenging. Gather a dozen different people into one room to answer a question and the result can be chaotic, a bit messy and unpredictable. But it’s worth it. Since Jerry began using this approach, he's come to believe it’s the best way to do things.
“You have your different views and if you have all of that information at the beginning of the project it’s easier to really land the project in the best way possible. So, for me it was really inspiring and also a lot of fun, because you do it together.”