Chairmen of the house

Right now in the IKEA house at Design Indaba two designers, Issa Diabaté and Kevin Gouriou are prototyping a chair inspired by open source thinking. We spoke with them to find out how it’s going.

It’s not so unusual for IKEA to design a chair, but this is no ordinary chair.

The idea behind it is that “if you have the blueprint and the contours then you can cut it out and build it yourself,” says co-designer Issa Diabaté. Together with in-house IKEA designer Kevin Gouriou, they are sawing, drilling and testing new prototypes all week in the public work sessions being held at the IKEA house during Design Indaba.

“We’re in the process of testing a chair that uses fewer pieces,” says Issa. They are also trying to eliminate stages of assembly.

Kevin and Issa are pushing IKEA In new directions, bringing open source thinking to the table as well as working thoroughly and seriously with the dimensions of Democratic Design.

The designers are in the early stages of solving the puzzle of how to design the blueprint so that almost anyone could build the chair if they have access to a hammer, a saw, and one sheet of plywood – measuring 1m x 2m. It can be assembled from three of four pieces of wood.

“The chair is especially relevant for people living in African cities,” says Issa. “If you’re in places where I come from, you can find any street carpenter that has basic skills who could make these chairs for you at an affordable price in twenty to thirty minutes.” But it’s not a sophisticated process to build the chair.

Kevin Gouriou and Issa Diabaté designing an open source inspired chair at Design Indaba in Cape Town.
Kevin Gouriou and Issa Diabaté designing an open source inspired chair at Design Indaba in Cape Town.

A thing like form is affected by local culture and background, but IKEA is not pursuing this design collaboration to explore Africa expression. “We are curious about what this group of people want to do together,” says Creative Leader for the project, Mathias Worbin.

Kevin and Issa are pushing IKEA In new directions, bringing open source thinking to the table as well as working thoroughly and seriously with the dimensions of Democratic Design.  

Issa has had this idea in the back of his head for two or three years. He sees a need for this kind of furniture. “Young people could pay the same price that they usually pay for furniture, but get more.” The chair is designed to be easy to mount, dis-mount and personalise. “I wanted to give a bit more flexibility to what young people normally buy in terms of furniture,” he says.  

The outcome “would be IKEA-like and compliant with IKEA philosophy,” he says. For him, the principles of Democratic Design, are not far from the values and priorities that he is dealing with on a daily basis. The difference is that now he has the industrial support of IKEA.

Issa and IKEA co-designer Kevin Gouriou have been collaborating on the project since their first meeting in Sweden last October. Issa came with the initial idea, Kevin has been making 3D sketches and building prototypes in IKEA Prototype Shop. They have then been discussing them over telephone and email. “Now we’re meeting in person and trying to improve the design,” says Kevin.

Kevin’s role has been to contribute the logic of mass-producing and the logic of the materials they are working with. He is able to tap into the experience and knowledge at IKEA to develop the project.

“What is also interesting is that I am doing the work with Issa but at the same time the other designers are around and giving us ideas,” says Kevin. The other fourteen designers who are part of the IKEA collaboration are developing other projects parallel to Kevin and Issa, also in the IKEA house.

Throughout the day, journalists and other visitors have been watching the designers work and asking questions. “There is a nice interaction between the designers and the public,” says Kevin. He hopes that as the week progresses they will find more ways for the public to be involved.

A thing like form is affected by local culture and background, but IKEA is not pursuing this design collaboration to explore Africa expression. We are curious about what this group of people want to do together.

Kevin Gouriou and Issa Diabaté are also responsible for the design of the IKEA house that has been built in the main plaza at Design Indaba. “What we’re really hoping for both the chair and the house is having them available open source,” says Issa. Making IKEA more democratic he adds.

When not working in the IKEA house Kevin and Issa have been attending the Design Indaba conference. Yesterday we got to see a glimpse of conference speakers Olafur Eliasson and Kaja Dahl thanks to designer Hanna Dalrot, who has taken over the IKEA Today Instagram account for the week. 

Kevin and Issa's sketches on display for the public at Design Indaba.
Kevin and Issa's sketches on display for the public at Design Indaba.

Kevin Gouriou started at IKEA In September 2016 after completing his Master’s in Industrial Design at the Swiss design school ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne. At the same time as working on the collaboration with Issa, he’s creating a collection of lamps. 

Issa Diabaté is an architect based in the Ivory Coast where he’s been practising architecture since graduating from the Yale School of Architecture in 1995. He has a six-year-old working partnership with Mr. Guillaume Ko. For two decades, they have done work mainly in west Africa (Senegal, Mali, Benin) but also in central Africa (Gabon) and east Africa (Ethiopia). Besides practising architecture, he has participated in many furniture design events including the Dakar Biennale (Design prize for the 1998 edition) and Design Indaba (2014).

Design Indaba has become a respected institution in the global creative landscape, based on the foundation of their annual Festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995. today it comprised of a world-renowned Conference, an online publication, a Social DoTank and an annual Festival of Creativity. In 22 years, the Design Indaba Conference has grown to become one of the world’s leading design events, hosting more than 55 speakers and over 5000 delegates annually.