Designing and innovating for a safer life at home
Furniture tip-over is one of the furnishing industry’s most serious safety issues. How can it be addressed by design? It’s a question at the heart of a product innovation journey at IKEA – one that involves strengthening the safety and stability of storage furniture overall. We spoke to Emelie Knoester and Björn Andreasson at IKEA to learn more about the process and the strides made along the way.
A home can be many things. A place to gather loved ones around a meal, to find the space to create, or simply lay your head to rest. And to some of the most imaginative among us, it can be something far beyond that – a fortress, a deserted island, a lush jungle with wild animals at every turn.
“Children love to play and explore in the home, and they should be able to do so freely. In many places around the world, it’s the only place where they can”, says Emelie Knoester, Business Area Manager at IKEA.
Children love to play and explore in the home, and they should be able to do so freely.
Together with experts across IKEA, ranging from designers to engineers, Emelie is anchoring a variety of initiatives in product development and communication at IKEA to make for a safer life at home. It’s a journey fuelled not least by the ambition to address a serious industry-wide safety issue: furniture tip-overs.
A result of a shifted centre of gravity in anything from tall narrow furniture or a low, sturdy chest of drawers filled with heavy things, furniture tip-overs can put both children and adults in their vicinity at risk of harm. And though all IKEA storage furniture is safe to use when anchored to the wall as per assembly instructions, Emelie and the team are dedicated to make them even safer by design.
“If there’s a problem in the home, we at IKEA want to take the lead in understanding and addressing it in our product development”, says Emelie. “Using our insights in life at home, we’re working towards an ambition of nobody getting harmed by an IKEA storage furniture tipping over, whether it’s a bookcase or a shoe shelf in any room of the home”.
Working towards this goal centres communication on safety and the importance of attaching furniture to the wall as much as it does design and innovation – and not least a combination that allows for the latter to take care of the former. Emelie notes that there already are several examples of designs in IKEA home furnishing that hold their ground particularly well for this very reason.
One such example is the heavier bottom and narrowing top for sturdy book display BERGIG. Another: the upcoming GREÅKER cabinet with drawers, which features a custom hinge and functional doors that – once open – make for solid additional support to prevent tip-over.
Reducing the risk of furniture tip-overs by design
Other safety features are more discreet innovations found in the details that communicate just as loudly. The previously announced GLESVÄR, a family of chest of drawers with limited release in 2020, tested three of them. One allowed only one open drawer at a time until the chest is attached to the wall; another allowed no drawers to be opened until attached; while a third featured only two front legs, forcing attachment to the wall altogether.
It’s challenging, but we always go back to the reason we’re doing this.
Though not directly involved in GLESVÄR himself, Product Design Engineer Björn Andreasson sees the learnings from the limited release in his ongoing work with innovation for safety.
“With GLESVÄR, we took several learnings with us, and an important one was that the attachment for being able to open all drawers had to be part of the preassembly done with the supplier”, says Björn. “It shouldn’t be an added function or more troublesome for the customer, but a flawless, intuitive solution.”
These learnings form part of the kind of innovative solutions that Björn Andreasson works on with his team to implement in products – oftentimes while the idea is still in development.
“Working with innovation means that development and implementation become more parallel processes. This way, we see if the ideas work in practice early on both functionally and in line with Democratic Design, so that we can make changes in good time”, Björn explains, adding: “It can be a bumpy road, but it helps us find even better solutions and ways forward together.”
The process Björn works with involves risk assessment, testing, and evaluation of both technical solution and the concept overall far ahead of an actual release. It’s in line with the rigorous product testing and development process at IKEA at large, with the clear goal of decreasing furniture tip-overs resounding throughout – a complex and big movement that poses a fair share of challenges not least to production and suppliers.
“It’s challenging, but we always go back to the reason we’re doing this”, says Björn, noting that he has two small children at home himself. “We’re continuously taking steps to address this serious issue and take the lead in innovating for safety and stability. If the work we do can make a difference and encourage people to attach their furniture at home, if the solutions we come up with can affect future legislated requirements and become industry standard – we’ve been successful. And that makes it worthwhile.”