Architect and designer Issa Diabaté next to a plywood chair prototype.

Checking in with ÖVERALLT

We take a closer look at ÖVERALLT, an African design collaboration that is right now in the heart of the product development process. We met with Creative Leader James Futcher and IKEA Designer Johanna Jelinek to hear about the latest developments.

ÖVERALLT is a design collaboration across disciplines and continents. 10 African designers from the fields of fashion, sculpture, architecture and furniture design, have been paired with five IKEA designers to create the collection. We take a closer look at the collection and hear about the latest developments.

“We’ve been looking at what’s happening in Africa for quite some time in music and fashion but what you don’t see so much, is all of the great things that are happening in architecture and product design,” said Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA.

At the designers’ first meeting in Älmhult, late in 2016, they workshopped their way to the theme of Urban Rituals. We asked IKEA Designer Johanna Jelinek what Urban Rituals means to her: “You have your morning rituals, coming home rituals, taking the train rituals; there are so many rituals and you do it your way, it’s very personalised. I think it’s really important. Rituals connect people through the past and the present and give a feeling of belonging; you can land in your rituals.”

A woman holding a textile pattern prototype.
IKEA Designer Johanna Jelinek working in Cape Town on the ÖVERALLT collection.

Issa Diabaté, architect from the Ivory Coast told us that: “What’s interesting about investigating urban rituals is the fact that African Cities are transforming at the moment. And the rituals that we’re used to are moving in a different direction.” It is interesting to re-explore urban rituals in light of the technological developments that are having such a big impact on our lives today.

Rituals connect people through the past and the present and give a feeling of belonging; you can land in your rituals.

In February 2017, we followed several of the design teams during their public work sessions at Design Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa. Since then, the designers have been in contact via Skype, telephone and email. “With such a visual work, sending it back and forth is not a problem,” said Johanna who is collaborating with textile designers Renee Roussouw, Sindiso Khumalo and Kenyan-based duo Studio Propolis. “Of course, I would love to work side by side, it’s much more fun,” said Johanna, “but thanks to the Internet it works well.”

The designers from Africa have been contributing with the ideas for the collection while the designers from IKEA have been guiding the development process. “Our role from IKEA has been to show and lead the way in making products that are suitable for mass-production, that was a learning for the guest designers.”

Johanna reflected on the Scandinavian influence on the African collaboration. “What we felt was fantastic was that you couldn’t really miss that the designs are African, they really popped up from their own hearts, but they are modernised in a way, maybe that’s the connection to Scandinavia.”

Design workshop in Älmhult

The latest meeting for all the designers was a very hands-on workshop at the IKEA Prototype Shop in Älmhult, Sweden. Together with the expert prototype engineers they were turning sketches into prototypes.

Creative Leader for the collection, James Futcher, reflected that “all the designers have made products that pose a challenge in the production process going forward. Right now, we’re in the heart the of the product development stage.” New materials and techniques that have never been used at IKEA before are currently on the agenda. “With new ideas, it’s a challenging process but that’s what is really exciting,” said James.

A woman in glasses, wearing her hair in a bun.
Selly Raby Kane has been working on products inspired by the tradition of weaving hair.

For example, sculptor Selly Raby Kane and IKEA Designer Iina Vuorivirta, are working with designs inspired by the tradition of weaving hair. Finding a material for these products has been difficult. “Iina knows a lot about working with natural fibres and perhaps this could be a solution, or maybe twisted metal,” said James Futcher.

Finding a small-scale producer for Reform Studio’s new version of the FRAKTA bag has been possible but more finding one for mass-production has been more complicated. The bag is made with woven strips of silver thread-like material, waste material from crisp packaging production. Guests at Democratic Design Day were able to take home some of the first samples of this glittering, pastel version of the IKEA icon.

When Reform Studio was recently in Älmhult, they had the chance to share their passion for the project and present their idea to more people at IKEA. “Something that at first didn’t seem possible is now getting somewhere thanks to a lot of discussions across IKEA,” says Creative Leader James Futcher.

At the end of the workshop, the team laid out the whole collection. “We looked back to the brief to see if we’re answering the original ideas about rituals and evaluating the collection from the five points of Democratic Design,” said James Futcher. Drawings and full-size prototypes have been sent to suppliers for input, the collection is one step closer to making it to IKEA stores.

Two women looking closely at an IKEA carrier bag on a table.
Mariam Hazem and Hend Riad of Reform Studio with their FRAKTA bag made with woven strips of silver thread-like material, waste from crisp packaging production.

Producing the collection

IKEA is also looking into finding new suppliers in Africa. A new relationship with a supplier is not simple, but it’s important that IKEA keeps exploring new avenues. “We’d love to make something in Africa and are exploring two different tracks at the moment but nothing is confirmed yet,” said James Futcher.

Another idea, as well as local production, was to make several products available Open Source. If it isn’t possible to buy IKEA products, there are only two stores in Africa at the moment, would it be possible for IKEA designs to be produced independently?

All the designers have made products that pose a challenge in the production process going forward. Right now, we’re in the heart the of the product development stage.

Issa Diabaté and IKEA Designer Kevin Gouriou are looking into a set of blueprints for a modular house and simple chair. Issa is curious how different interpretations of the drawings can bring something richer to the collection. “Depending on where those objects are built, they can take on different personalities. If you download the drawings in West Africa and built off those drawings the objects will be very different if you download the drawings in China or in South America for instance,” he said.

“At the end of the day what it’s going to be is a global collection, with around 30 pieces in all stores, available all around the world and in online sales. This is a great way to get the message out about the creative explosion in Africa,” said Head of Design at IKEA, Marcus Engman.

We’ll be checking in on the progress of the products in the collection in the coming weeks, so you won’t have to wait until early in 2019 for the official launch to hear more about ÖVERALLT.

Two laughing men measuring a plywood chair prototype.
Destined for Open Source? Issa Diabaté and IKEA Designer Kevin Gouriou working on a prototype from the ÖVERALLT collection.