A collection of soft toys piled up on the floor next to a kids bed.

BLÅVINGAD ocean toy collection brings children's perspectives ashore

An image of life under the sea ready to be coloured, a fishing game with a purpose, and a selection of bright, huggable ocean animal soft toys. These form part of BLÅVINGAD, a collection from IKEA that carries an important message: to care for the ocean. Magnus Thuvesson and Jorge Santoyo Henaine at IKEA share how an expert panel of children helped develop the collection – and how their concerns for the ocean were woven into its very fabric. 

Colourful, expansive, and full of both known curiosities and mystery, the ocean has long been an object of fascination for children and adults alike. For the former, the reason is simple. There’s just something particularly tickling about a subject that provides an endless list of trivia to absorb, as well as plenty of room for imagination. 
“Look at dinosaurs, for example. We have the names, we know when they lived approximately, and learning it all really appeals to some kids. But we don’t know everything”, says Magnus Thuvesson, Competence Leader for topics related to children at IKEA. “It’s the same with the ocean, because it’s so vast. Even when you pull something from your imagination, people can’t tell you for sure that’s not how it is – and many kids love that”.
A man with round glasses wearing a blue suit sitting in front of a green wall.
Magnus Thuvesson.

Even when you pull something from your imagination, people can’t tell you for sure that’s not how it is – and that’s key for many kids.

It's one of many things Magnus has picked up from experts on children – including children themselves – while working with the Kids Advisory Panel and Kids Lab at IKEA. They’re two different ways of bringing children into the product design and development process, and they’re just as fun as they are thought-provoking to work with, according to Magnus. 

“It challenges us as adults because kids are so much freer in their thought process. They’ll often say things that sound funny to our adult brains, but if it wasn’t meant as a joke, we shouldn’t laugh. They’re the small experts here! So, we listen and try to understand what they’re trying to say.” 
A man drinking coffee with a soft toy panda bear next to him.
“I’ve become something of an interpreter”, Magnus Thuvesson says about learning to understand children in his work with the Kids Lab and Kids Panel at IKEA. 
In the Kids Lab, adults in design and development related roles at IKEA get the chance to show and discuss prototypes with different groups of small experts for invaluable feedback. At an even earlier stage, bringing kids into the process involves asking a designated panel of experts aged 8 to 14 to share their thoughts on things, big and small. 
Like what their favourite ocean animals are, what concerns they may have for them, and what stories they imagine around them. Which ultimately inspired the direction of the ocean-themed BLÅVINGAD toy collection – and the message it carries. 
Two sketches of whales and fishes in the ocean.
Two sketches of the BLÅVINGAD collection.

Weaving children’s concerns and hopes into BLÅVINGAD

“My worries about the ocean are environmental issues, and I feel that many people now litter”, says a boy from China.

“The amount of garbage in the oceans worries me very much, and that people don’t care”, says a girl from Germany.

“The rising amount of garbage is causing increasing harm, and more things need to be done!” says a girl from the United Kingdom.

all among the more than forty children in Germany, China and the United Kingdom that form the Kids Advisory Panel for IKEA. And they’re just a few of those who voiced their concerns about the amount of plastic and litter found in and around oceans.

“We saw how much the kids cared about the environment in the ocean, and we were inspired to share the message”, says Jorge Santoyo Henaine, Product Design Developer of toys at IKEA

We saw how much the kids cared about the environment in the ocean, and we were inspired to share the message.

A man in a blue T-shirt sitting in a chair in the middle of a room.
Jorge Santoyo Henaine, Product Design Developer.

The potential of fun and play always takes centre-stage in the development of a toy, and if you ask Jorge, it’s an assignment that can be as tricky as it is fun. Insights and feedback from children tend to be the key that unlocks much in the process. For BLÅVINGAD, it was the panel’s concern for the ocean that sparked ideas that would eventually flow into everything from game and character development to material choices.

“It would be very easy to make a book in different languages about the problem with plastic and trash in the ocean, but here we try to communicate the message in the products, without words. Like in the fishing game”, Jorge explains, referring to a colourful fishing and sorting game in the collection.

It’s a really fun, simple game all in wood and cardboard, but it has a really important message, without any text: clean the ocean!”

Two kids playing with a wooden fishing game.
In the BLÅVINGAD fishing game, players can fish garbage out of the ocean and put it in a “bin”.

In fact, all the hard toys in BLÅVINGAD are made completely without plastic, as is the packaging, adding a subtle point to the overall message. A slightly less subtle one can be found in the flat-packed submarine made of wood and its sturdy crew of plywood figurines made from DUKTIG kitchen production residue.

It’s a cool crew that studies and takes care of the ocean”, Jorge says enthusiastically. He points to a section of the BLÅVINGAD colouring paper roll and proudly states: Look, you can even see them picking up trash in the ocean here.

A pair of child hands putting together a wooden submarine.
The flat-packed submarine is made of wood from DUKTIG kitchen production residue.

Ocean animal soft toys sport a movement in material use


For the softer side of the collection, the influence of a panel of small experts is perhaps most obvious in the selection of animals. The dolphin was most often chosen as a favourite ocean animal across the panel, described as “beautiful”, “clever”, and “really friendly with humans” among other kind things. Whales, sharks and turtles closely followed. Almost all can be found in huggable soft toy versions with BLÅVINGAD, with the one exception already being a familiar friend in the running range named BLÅHAJ.


But there was another inspired development in BLÅVINGAD soft toys that isn’t quite as visible to the naked eye.

Sketches of two turtles and an octopus.
Sketches of the BLÅVINGAD turtle and octopus.

We always have recycled filling in our soft toys already but doing something around how kids care about the environment made us ask ourselves: how can we push for more sustainability here?” says Jorge.

The answer: trying for recycled polyester in the skin as well. Which turned out to pose quite the challenge, seeing as not least the outside of a soft toy must stand the tough test of cuddles and play – and an elaborate testing process at IKEA before that. 

We got materials that were behaving really well with the right hand feel and everything, but it would be terrible after washing”, Jorge recounts. “There was a high bar here because we needed it to behave the same as virgin materials. I don’t know how many times we tried, but finally, we got it right.

A bunch of soft toys gathered on a table.
A couple of the BLÅVINGAD soft toys accompanied by friends from JÄTTELIK.
The efforts mean that all BLÅVINGAD soft toys are made almost entirely from recycled materials, save for the thread that keeps them together and expressive.

“Making soft toys with recycled skin isn’t just part of this theme. We’re actually already working with it in another soft toy project”, Jorge shares with excitement, noting that the developments made for BLÅVINGAD have really set a precedent for all IKEA soft toys to come. 

“From now on, now that we know we can do this, the skin needs to always be made from recycled materials.”