Design Thinking at IKEA

With two other teachers, I took a group of students to IKEA today to learn about their process for developing new products and for organizing and displaying them in the store. The field trip was part of a class in Entrepreneurship. We have been defining “entrepreneurship” as the process of taking an idea and making it a reality. It doesn’t have to be a business idea; it can be any idea that brings an inspiration to reality. We have been using Stanford’s Design Process, teaching the students to develop their plans through interviewing, prototyping and testing. The trip to IKEA was to help trigger their thinking around their specific challenge which is to design and create the ideal Middle School locker.

IKEA was a wonderful destination for a field trip. They don’t get many groups, but they were incredibly accommodating. One of their designers, Scott, met with us and explained the variety within their designs. He had a collection of trays and used them to illustrate how the price point, the function and the overall theme impacted how each of the different trays was developed. For an inexpensive tray, the materials and ability to easily manufacture it were key. They search for ways to make each piece as inexpensively as possible, finding plants that can make individual pieces for them. One of the ways they save money is that they are manufacture everything that they sell. They aren’t buying from anyone else. Scott also explained how they began to use flat boxing and home assembly to reduce the price as well.

Once the pricing and manufacturing decisions were made, Scott told how each tray could be changed to connect with the different, major themes that IKEA has. For example, a modern tray might get polka dots in bright and bold colors. A classically themed one could have Victorian roses. Scott held up examples of the trays, which quickly and easily illustrated how the simple change of paper underneath the laminate created a totally different product. He showed the most expensive tray, one that had a very modern and simple design, but was made with two different materials, wood and plastic. The students got to compare the different trays and recognize both their function and possible appeal to different customers.

Scott then took us on a tour of the second floor. We looked at a number of “rooms,” discussing how each was arranged, identifying the themes and functions associated with them. Scott told us that each room is created with a specific user in mind: a young single, a family with young children; parents and teens. While they could be used by other groups, when designing them, IKEA kept their focus on their specific user group. This was a great lesson for the students, to help them understand that none of this design should happen just based on their own impulses. Each design must meet the needs of a specific client.

The girls got to examine a variety of rooms, some arranged by price point and some by size: an apartment for $370 compared to one for $1,000; an apartment built to fit into 350 square feet compared to one with 750 square feet. With each comparison the girls identified what was similar and what was different? What was added or subtracted depending on the price or size? It presented them with interesting questions to consider and pushed them to think about how to solve problems, whether financial or based on space.

We then sent them off to explore the rest of the second floor, reminding them of their Locker Challenge. We encouraged them to explore how storage and space were handled. Because IKEA is arranged to have the customers actually open the drawers and sit in the chairs, it is a perfect place for this kind of investigation. We didn’t have to worry that the students were mishandling the furniture. They were free to open drawers and closets, peek behind and under beds, to find how IKEA had solved some of the problems of space. Because IKEA has clearly taken on the challenge of creating unique solutions to the challenges of decoration, storage and living, as they explored, they were continually excited by some new . As they wandered and explored, the students were so excited by the variety of solutions to different problems they found.

After about 30 minutes of exploring, we had them choose one object on which they wanted to focus. They made a detailed sketch and then described its function. We had them consider other uses for the product and to think about ways that it might be improved or used for another purpose. They all had a favorite piece from their exploration, so they quickly returned to it and began to sketch.

It was a very successful day, full of energy and excitement, as well as many lessons on how to think about design. It is definitely a field trip that I would recommend! A special Thank You to IKEA and to Scott for our visit!

One response to “Design Thinking at IKEA

  1. chelsea hadley

    Wow!! This is an awesome field trip!! I would have LOVED to have went on a field trip like this when I was in school!! It seems like it was an unique and fun experience! It always important to learn about design and space and pricing!! I have always wanted to learn that! I am glad I got the chance to read this post so I can look more into this! Thank you for this interesting post!! Love it!

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