how home visits help IKEA understand and design for life at home
 

how home visits help IKEA understand and design for life at home

in 2017 alone, 936 million people visited IKEA stores worldwide which, alongside 2.1 billion website visits, generated a massive €38.3 billion in retail sales. considering this, you may think that IKEA’s vision to create a better everyday life for the many people has definitely been achieved. however, imperatively for the brand, this mission is never actually finished. as our modern lives and the spaces that we live in constantly and dramatically change, IKEA’s product offerings not only need to fit timely within these lifestyles, but also and more importantly, need to improve them. so how do IKEA design for this ever changing home and this unpredictable future?

 

well, it all starts with understanding their, as mentioned earlier, huge customer market, as well as non-members. to gain insight into the real ways people live, in all countries and from all cultures, IKEA conducts hundreds of home visits every year. during the 2018 madrid design week, designboom joined marcus engman, head of IKEA design, on two such occasions.


‘what makes a home’ has four key elements; things, relationships, space and place
all images courtesy of IKEA

 

 

these home visits are integral to IKEA and how they try to truly understand current and potential customers’ lives, dreams, and challenges in the hope of creating better solutions. in 2017, 22,000 people in 22 countries were involved in these visits. the results highlighted that generally, people are happy with life at home, but there are many challenges that need to be solved. the yearly report also identified that ‘what makes a home’ has four key elements; things, relationships, space and place. typically, issues occurred when these were encroached upon and revolved around how people have different needs, tastes and expectations.


generally, IKEA have found that the majority of people are happy with life at home

 

 

joining the home visits in the spanish capital, the exploration and reflection upon everyday living highlighted many parallel issues, while also showcasing some unique challenges and solutions. firstly, we went to the home of 30 year old secretary, sara, who had lived in her one bedroom flat for eight years, along with her two cats, pirate and zoe. afterwards, we joined the lopez family – antonio, 50; susana, 50; lidia, 20; and raquel, 17 – for dinner in their 90 sqm apartment.


sara (left) and marcus engman (right) discussing her life at home

 

 

homes are steeped in meaning and personal identity, and as such, so are their furnishings. during the two visits, marcus took a journey into how the occupants feel about their home, how they typically behave, what struggles do they have, and how they try and create a better life at home for themselves. these honest reflections were explored through tours of the homes – the beauty and the bad – and observations of how they live – what they loved and what most frustrated them. throughout, IKEA’s head of design constantly queried product use, behaviour and issues in the hope of gaining as much insight as possible.


antonio lopez showing marcus how the family’s drying racks are placed inside a kitchen cupboard

 

 

small details of behaviour or even home-made solutions inspire and present new ideas to IKEA. a quick fix product in the home, as seen in the lopez family’s flat thanks to the father’s craftsmanship and ingenuity, sometimes results in completely new innovations for the brand. in extreme cases, these people, called ‘home pioneers’, are collaborated with to explore creative and unusual ways of living. taking the IKEA ‘365+’ carafe as an example, the design stems from the behaviour of people in southern european countries to store chilled tap water in fridges. meeting the brand’s democratic design principles, this function informed the bottle’s ideal form, as well as its need to be easily machine washed.


creative solutions propose new innovations and products to IKEA

 

 

the intriguing conversations with these individuals ended with marcus enquiring about their biggest frustrations with IKEA and how the brand can help them more. interestingly enough, on both occasions their answers were related to uniqueness and personality. they felt that either the mass produced products did not add meaningful character to their home or that, due to the brand’s huge customer base, thousands of others would have the exact same furnishings as themselves. in that way, we can already see how these visits and in-depth research informs IKEA design. announced at the 2018 madrid design festival, actually the day after the two home visits, the ‘INDUSTRIELL’ collection with piet hein eek debuted and looks to solve these issues by manufacturing uniqueness. although seeming immediate, IKEA products actually take three years to develop from scratch to being sold in the stores. this means that these concerns over individuaility were raised a few years ago, perhaps at a home visit similar to the two we joined on, and IKEA worked immediately to solve them.


IKEA home visits provide insight into the real ways people live, in all countries and from all cultures

 


it is also a way for the brand to stay updated with modern lifestyles and living spaces

 


keeping hold of personal possessions yet having little storage is an issue for many households

 


the research hopes for IKEA designers to understand user behaviours a little bit better

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