Marcus Engman and IKEA designers Sigga Heimis and Nicholai Wiig-Hansen looking at the work of students at ÉCAL in Lausanne.
Marcus Engman and IKEA designers Sigga Heimis and Nicholai Wiig-Hansen looking at the work of students at ÉCAL in Lausanne. Younès Klouche

Teaming up with design schools

We met with exuberant Creative Leader Sigga Heimis to find out why IKEA is handing over the DELAKTIG platform, developed in collaboration with Tom Dixon, to students to experiment with in both London and Tokyo.

IKEA collaborating with design schools is not a new initiative. When Sigga Heimis started working at IKEA in 2000, previous design manager Lars Engman asked her to work with schools on the side of designing IKEA classics such as KRUSNING and GLÄNSA, nothing official. Over time it’s something she has become passionate about. “I’ve always been a big supporter and fan of design schools and young creators,” says Sigga.

Today, sixteen years later, working with students is an official part of her job. She’s also responsible for the graphics in the design department and design strategy for the collaborations and the collections that pursue a specific idea. “I love that in my role I can give students a real opportunity in the design field,” says Sigga, reflecting on how hard it was for her to build up her own network at the beginning of her career. Considering how many designers graduate every year, the opportunity to get real-world design experience and contacts is invaluable.

Icelandic designer and Creative Leader at IKEA Sigga Heimis.
Icelandic designer and Creative Leader at IKEA Sigga Heimis.
Students from Swiss design school ÉCAL on a visit to an IKEA board-on-frame factory in Poland.
Students from Swiss design school ÉCAL on a visit to an IKEA board-on-frame factory in Poland. Younès Klouche

The projects that Sigga looks after are different from the IKEA internship programme, although they are also a great way to find new talent. They have a different purpose. The intention of the collaborations is that students will have the chance to push ideas and thinking at IKEA to new places with their young perspective. Whilst at the same time giving the students something unique – that is first-hand exposure to the realities of manufacturing and production. 

Sigga is hoping that the desire to collaborate will come from many different areas of IKEA, not just the design department. Her role will be to find the right school for the right project. There is no set format, it can be from a Master’s students writing their thesis on a relevant subject, to a whole class experimenting with a platform being developed by a well-known design profile.

Students from the Royal College of Art exploring the potential of the DELAKTIG platform.
Students from the Royal College of Art exploring the potential of the DELAKTIG platform. Jamie Baker

Participating in the development of DELAKTIG

Which is exactly what is happening in London and Tokyo. Students from the Musashino Art University in Japan were given the DELAKTIG seating and sleeping platform, which has been developed in collaboration with Tom Dixon, to work with for several months and students from a range of creative disciplines from the Royal Academy of Art in London were given the platform to work with for a week. IKEA and Tom Dixon were keen to let the students from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds experiment with it. Who said that IKEA always knows what’s best for their own products?

It’s Sigga’s job to lead the students through the collaborations, imparting the IKEA design philosophy and working culture – one that places a great emphasis on collaboration and teamwork.

It’s the most amazing moment to call a student and say that ‘IKEA is going to produce your clock or chair’.

Recently, students from ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne, a design school in Switzerland collaborated with IKEA. Whilst developing an exhibition to be displayed at the IKEA Democratic Design Day, they were also given the chance to visit both the design centre in Älmhult and a board on frame factory in Poland. “Discovering all the details, how to assemble and all the tricks to reduce the wood consumption, was almost magic, ” says Luisa Pietrini, a second-year student who took part in the project.

“We mean what we say, we are working closely with design students, this is not a nice marketing gimmick,” says Sigga. There are lots of collaborations in the pipeline, both in Europe and well beyond. Before collaborations begin there is a framework put in place to address matters of Intellectual Property. All schools will own what the students create, IKEA will purchase any ideas that they are interested in taking further. “It’s the most amazing moment to call a student and say that ‘IKEA is going to produce your clock or chair’,” says Sigga. Imagine having that in your baggage when graduating from design school.

Previous IKEA collaborations with schools:

2016 – New Way OutBeckmans School of Design interprets IKEA’s brief at Stockholm Furniture Fair
2015 – Concept Kitchen 2025 – Ten years in the future, the world will be a very different place. What does that mean for us, for the design of kitchens, and the people who make them – and how will we be able to live a sustainable life at home? IKEA collaborated with IDEO and design students at the Ingvar Kamprad Design Centre at Lund University, and the Eindhoven University of Technology.