High drama with IKEA and Tom Dixon in Milan

Teatro Manzoni, Tuesday, 9:30 am. The global press is gathered in central Milan to see DELAKTIG, the sofa designed by Tom Dixon in collaboration with IKEA.

During Milan Design Week, Teatro Manzoni has become Tom Dixon’s Multiplex. “Before you used to show a prototype of your work on a podium and hope that people would buy it. You have to work a lot harder now to get some attention,” says Tom Dixon. Rumour has it that this year there are 20,000 events taking place in Milan, hiring one of the most beautiful art-deco theatres in Milan is a great way to attract the design crowd.

In collaboration with IKEA, Dixon has filled the main cinema space with DELAKTIG sofas. Two-seaters, three-seaters, arm-chairs and chaise-longues are placed in a  Tetris-like formation; side by side, back to back and end to end. The fresh colours of DELAKTIG contrast with the optical extravaganza on the ceiling and the heavy red velvet curtains on stage.

One of the stand-out features of the DELAKTIG platform is its use of aluminium, but here in Manzoni, it’s been dressed up for the occasion. There are black and gold versions of the sofa.

The moderator asks Tom Dixon why he collaborates with other brands, he answers by bringing up a picture in the cinema screen, a map of the internet. “Historically people have thought of branding as a protection of an idea or a label or something. I think in the modern world, you’re only as good or as interesting as your network,” he says. It’s the lure of bigger possibilities that brought Tom Dixon and IKEA together. To be able to do more than what Tom Dixon can achieve on his own.

Sitting alongside Tom on stage, is Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA. Tom’s first pitch was an IKEA coffin, “we, of course, said no,” says Marcus. Their discussion moved on to seating. 

“We were looking into ways where the sofa could adapt to the constant changing and disruption in people’s lives,” says Tom, referring to research undertaken by IKEA highlighting how people are using space differently today. Families are living in more fragmented constellations, access to space is limited – crowded cities are changing customer needs.

Disrupting the upholstery business

The DELAKTIG team also felt it was time to challenge the upholstery industry. “It’s been done in the same way for two, three-hundred years,” says Marcus. The norm is that wooden parts are stapled by hand, with DELAKTIG they wanted to enhance the quality of upholstery for the future. “We also want to do something that is highly industrialised and also highly customised for the future,” says Marcus. So they turned to the aluminium extrusion industry.

Together with aluminium supplier Sapa, they have been able to build a base frame that is light-weight, strong and built to last. “One of the most important parts of making things sustainable is longevity,” says Marcus. DELAKTIG is a piece that IKEA wants people to want to live with for a long time.

Tom Dixon waiting to start the press event at Teatro Manzoni.
Tom Dixon waiting to start the press event at Teatro Manzoni.
The yeti. Tim Dixon's own cover for the DELAKTIG platform.
The yeti. Tim Dixon's own cover for the DELAKTIG platform.

“We talked about design icons and this is something that is the very opposite of a design icon,” says Marcus Engman. “It looks good but it’s adaptable for the future, it’s not going to be the same thing forever and ever.” IKEA wants DELAKTIG to change alongside people’s needs at home.

”Typically, IKEA furniture is flat-packed, but probably people don’t flat-pack it again too much when they move on,” says Tom. Marcus adds “the flat-packing of a sofa has been a constant problem for us.” IKEA can only fit one sofa per pallet. It became another goal to get rid of air when shipping sofas. With DELAKTIG, and it’s small, light-weight frame IKEA can fit six three-seat sofas on one pallet.

“Me and Marcus became obsessed that the thing was a departure point rather than a finished design. If you produce something that is relatively neutral and very strong that could act as a platform and other people can hack it, disturb it and disrupt it,” says Tom Dixon. They turned to the design process of digital products for inspiration. “Like you would with a mobile phone you do apps on top of a platform, and that’s what we do,” says Tom. “You can even see a bit of the iPhone 5 aesthetic in the sofa.”

There was a secondary conversation going on all the time, about the community of IKEA hackers and also about how old-fashioned the furniture business is in relation to something like the digital industry. The team wanted to kick start the idea of adaptability with the student community, tapping into the global network of schools that collaborate with IKEA.

Marcus Engman meeting the press in Milan.
Marcus Engman meeting the press in Milan.
A dramatic entrance at Teatro Manzoni.
A dramatic entrance at Teatro Manzoni.

3 schools, 3 continents, one sofa

There is a third partner in this collaboration, that is, seventy-five students from design schools all over the world. They were asked to take DELAKTIG “and go crazy, the more outlandish the better,” says Ian Higgins, tutor at the Royal College of Art in London.

The schools taking part in the collaboration are the Royal College of Art in London, Musashino Art University and Parsons School of Design in New York. The student’s ideas for developing DELAKTIG are on display in the foyer of Teatro Manzoni.

“I think it’s important to us as a big company to reach out to universities to give something back,” says Marcus Engman. “We have the knowledge around production, we can talk business to students.”

Both Tom and Marcus found it fascinating how you could see that what was happening around the world was affecting the students. The DELAKTIG platform became a place where the students could develop their own narrative. DELAKTIG will be on sale in 2018, both Tom Dixon and IKEA are looking forward to seeing how it will evolve without them.