At Democratic Design Days in June, IKEA announced their collaboration with Virgil Abloh, a designer who moves effortlessly between street culture and high-end fashion, redefining the status-quo wherever he goes. He’s an idea driven creative powerhouse with his finger on the pulse of what young people are into.
Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA, says that “what we found was really interesting was his creative approach. He’s an architect, to begin with, but he works in all different fields. What we see right now at IKEA is, why not combine the creative disciplines instead of working in just one? Why do you just stay true to one when you could be it all at the same time? We foresee a lot of good ideas from all his knowledge gathered from working in fashion and music.”
Designing for a millennial lifestyle
Where do you start a collaboration between the world’s largest home furnishing company and one of the world’s most influential fashion designers? With the customer. “We’re designing this collection with the main goal of providing millennials with solutions for living based on the constraints of space. That’s the broad strokes,” says Virgil to kick off the workshop.
Henrik Most, Creative Leader for the project, says that “we can see the way people live has changed a lot. The static idea of living and sleeping rooms that I grew up with is not relevant today. Especially not for the millennials. They don’t see the home as a room of boxes.”
It’s the circumstances young people find themselves in that will define this collection. One of the findings in the IKEA Life at Home Reports is that 11% of Millennials feel more at home at work or in school than in their homes. Young people live nomadic lives in big cities, often finding themselves in apartments or dorm rooms that are already furnished. The team discusses ways of customising and personalising furniture, exploring how young people can create their own design stories.
Another finding in the IKEA report is that Millennials put a higher value on emotional features, such as art and design and creating a unique home. Virgil’s ambition for the collection is that the “items are influenced by the artistic premise that, to add value in this millennial space it’s not only the object itself but it also has artistic value.” References to contemporary art fly around the workshop, connecting a dorm room with spaces normally reserved for contemporary art. “If you make the right object it can be appreciated by both,” says Virgil.
Hommage to industrial production
The latest developments in production will determine the shape of the furniture. While in the IKEA Prototype Shop, surrounded by IKEA material experts and product developers Virgil and his team pull apart prototypes made for the workshop and piece them together again, including new materials in the mix. The IKEA Prototype Engineer, shows Virgil the Wedge Dowel. “Sick,” he says when he sees how two pieces of wood click together. “You don’t need to hide the invisible the different fittings and solutions,” says Creative Leader Henrik Most, “you can emphasise what they look like.”
Virgil is working with a chair for the collection. He wants to tell a narrative through materials by combining a classic solid wood with the latest composite board, side by side. 50 years of material development in one chair. The expression is unusual, but it’s a concept embedded into the design.
The team is discussing everything from the importance of a good to chair, to functional decoratives and puzzle solutions for furniture. They look at prototypes for lamps, daybeds, rugs and bookshelves. Often they zero in on how to lift a specific feature in a piece of furniture. A visible screw here, or a stripe of colour there, “visually communicating to consumers what design element is most important,” says Virgil.
While travelling “350 days a year”, the Off-White team, who are mostly Millenials, have been taking time to go to dorm rooms and apartments, talking to young people about their furniture. “We’ve asked basic questions, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback. Dual functions are key, based on space and money. When we use the word millennial, I want to frame our thinking in solving each of these things,” says Virgil.
Speeding towards 2019
“It’s been the most rigorous of any design project I’ve had,” says Virgil. And it’s only just beginning. With a launch date for 2019, there is a lot of work left to do. Designing for the IKEA customer-base of 2 billion is a big jump from customising sneakers for 1000 people. As Henrik Most put it, “it’s a little bit like coming through a key-hole, coming through with new not tested solutions.”
It’s a challenge that Virgil and his team are keen to take on because as Virgil says, “there are only a few moments in a design career to work with the absolute best in class, and my concept of design resonates with the IKEA Democratic Design principles that great design can be given to the masses.”
For IKEA is it’s a way for IKEA to meet a new generation of customers, and as Henrik Most says to Virgil: “We’re not really interested in the hype. We’re interested in making a difference for people. There is a genuine desire to do something that makes a difference for young adults creating their first home consisting of beautiful, functional design and making it affordable.”
An unexpected but perfect match? Virgil echoes Henrik’s sentiments in the conversation. “In 2017, I truly believe that design is linked to humanity, that you can make the world a better place through design.”