Ikea says people now its furniture is chap, they also think its nasty.
Ikea says people now its furniture is chap, they also think its nasty.

SCANDI STYLE: Ikea's five design secrets

IKEA'S global head of design is in Sydney this week, and he's on a myth busting mission to persuade Australians that its chairs, crockery and beds are cheap and beautiful, not cheap and nasty.

Talking to news.com.au Marcus Engman admitted it was "hard to convey that message" with many customers assuming the Swedish firm bought job lots of products off the shelf and sold them on in its stores.

He also said he wanted his products to "nudge" people into being more sustainable - even if customers had no idea they're doing exactly that.

The company is in Sydney showing off future wares at a three day roadshow at the Museum of Contemporary Art. There customers can see design classics, a sneak peek at 2019's must have items and even chow down on an Australia version of the famous meatball - but this time with kangaroo.

Ikea says people now its furniture is chap, they also think its nasty.
Ikea says people now its furniture is chap, they also think its nasty.

It's the first time the event, called Democratic Design Days, has come to Australia.

Mr Engman is spruiking the company's concept of "democratic design," a fancy term that reveals the five design pillars the company judges every product by.

And if you still doubt Ikea think that hard about things, he was keen to show off a humble $4 water carafe that took four people three years to design.

"Democratic design to me is, on an everyday basis, how do we make collaboration possible and therefore products better?" he said.

When it comes to collaboration the company is now working with Lego on creative new toys, Adidas on integrating sporting equipment into the home and fashion designer Virgil Abloh, formerly the artistic director at Louis Vuitton, on furniture.

Ikea’s global design head Marcus Engman talking at the firm’s ‘Democratic Design Day’ in Sydney.
Ikea’s global design head Marcus Engman talking at the firm’s ‘Democratic Design Day’ in Sydney.

Mr Engman divulged the "five pillars" of Ikea designs - essentially the five must haves every newly minted product must posses to make it onto the shelves.

"Everything should have a great form or function for everyday life. It should have a quality that stands the toll of time and it should age beautifully," he said.

"It should be done in a sustainable way and, being Ikea, it has to be a low price to make it accessible."

But those low prices have also seen some accuse Ikea of enabling people to be wasteful - of encouraging them to buy furniture on a whim and then chuck it out just as easily.

Mr Engman bristled at the suggestions: "Low prices means low cost and low cost means you can't waste. You think how do you cut out a table in the best way to get less waste?"

He insisted product quality meant you shouldn't be throwing out their chairs and coffee tables into the hard rubbish that often anyway.

The new Ikea catalogue, one of the world’s biggest single publications.
The new Ikea catalogue, one of the world’s biggest single publications.

When testing a product the furniture giant ensured it met the standards set in the most stringent country it sells in, he said, and then maintained that quality worldwide.

But getting people to believe that is a tough ask, he admitted.

"Ikea items are of a high quality standard but the thing is, it's hard to convey that message since it's such a low price. It's hard to understand that we give value for that low price because it's not that common. But that's the trick of idea."

There was another myth he was keen to bust: "Most people think Ikea go somewhere and buy off the shelf. We go 'that's nice, lets buy it'. But everything is designed from scratch."

A case in point, he said, was the Ikea 365+ water carafe, yours for $4.49.

"It took three years to product develop such a simple thing, three years hard work for four designers - that's the effort we put in."

Mr Engman said the company started off understanding how people used water jugs. They liked to store them in the fridge door, so they researched all the fridge doors in the world and ensured its shape and height weren't too big for the vast majority of them.

A noticeable difference to other carafes is the wide opening: "If you want to have great hygiene it's not so smart to have a tight neck because it's hard to clean."

As such, it's the right size so water can both enter the carafe in the dishwasher and can make it all the way to the base.

Ikea 365+ water carafe that took three years to design
Ikea 365+ water carafe that took three years to design

The rest of the design is down to sustainability. The glass is recyclable. The stopper is made of cork, which is harmless to harvest, and is "super recyclable," said Mr Engman, who confided he was underwhelmed Australian wine bottles were screw top which is not as good for the environment.

Another design example he was proud of was how the company went from having a 10 euro LED bulb to a 1 euro bulb.

Ikea's designers managed to cut costs, he said, by having fewer components that were of a higher quality. As more people bought the longer lasting LED globes, Mr Engman said, that "nudged" customers into being more sustainability. And with a billion customers a year, even a little nudge is more like a big shove.

"We sell a lot of LEDs, that saves a lot of energy, and that nudge's people behaviours into being more sustainable for the future."

That was the ideal he said - cheap as chips and green as the garnish alongside.

"Our manufacturing is designed from the beginning to be cheap at the end but without making compromises on design. It's designed to be accessible so that's the idea of democratic design."

 

benedict.brook@news.com.au



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