Small outdoor solutions co-created with the public

It started with rough sketches based on what kind of solutions people wanted for their balconies and other small outdoor spaces. This was the beginning of the co-created trellis bench SVANÖ – and for the very first time the public were invited to work with the prototype.

A bunch of Swedish 17-year olds try to picture a small balcony in China. How would they use SVANÖ to create a place for relaxation? Then, they turn the prototype of the trellis bench into a green oasis covered with plants. They are the first group to join the co-create workshop at the IKEA Museum in Älmhult.

“When we asked them to use it for laundry they started hacking it with different kind of wires to add more space. But they kept it cosy with cushions”, says Irina Banciu, Co-create Community Coordinator at IKEA of Sweden.

Portrait of Irina Banciu standing beside a metal frame.
Irina Banciu, Co-create Community Coordinator at IKEA of Sweden

With the philosophy that everyday needs and frustrations are best solved together – the work with the bench started a year ago. Some of the two thousand IKEA co-workers in the global Co-create IKEA community were challenged to come up with smart solutions for the small outdoor spaces in their homes. Inspired by their ideas, designer Mikael Axelsson and product developer Jerry Svensson responded with sketches of different kinds of tables, chairs and benches.

The Co-create IKEA community voted on their favourites and Jerry and Mikael continued with the winner – a trellis bench that got the name SVANÖ. Two versions were developed, one round, and one square.

Many people wanted something they could use for multiple things. To have it free-standing was also important since many live in rented accommodations and can’t anchor anything onto the walls. Based on the input the square version won and they refined the prototype and made it slimmer.

Mikael Axelsson and Jerry Svensson seated on a bench-like piece of furniture standing on a black-and-white patterned rug.

From right, designer Mikael Axelsson and product developer Jerry Svensson hanging out in SVANÖ.

Sketches of different versions of a bench-like piece of furniture.

SVANÖ first sketch.

What were the challenges with SVANÖ?

“People wanted very different things. The challenge was really to answer to the input. It would be this super multifunctional solution if we could integrate everything,” says Jerry.

“For me it was to take the input from the community and make a product out of it,” Mikael agrees.

The benefit with co-creation is, according to Jerry, the immediate feedback. They got some straightforward ideas about storage.

“You can verify certain things, and also get more input along the way about things you haven’t thought about. You really have to question yourself all the time. I doubt it would have been this trellis bench solution at all if we defined it ourselves from the beginning.”

A man adjusting a metal frame with a chain of lights and a white curtain on it.
What would you do with SVANÖ?

The 17-year olds at the museum are done and a group of co-workers from the IKEA stores in Belgium are busy finding ways to use the bench with lights, cushions, flowers, laundry and baskets. One in the group is creating a cup holder prototype out of velcro and duct tape. There is a lot of laughter when the prototype transforms from a seating area protected from the summer rain to a place for drying a week’s worth of laundry. Soon more museum visitors will join the workshop and add their ideas.

Why is it important to open up for the public?

“We really wanted to see how people would use the prototype to get a good idea what the product would be used for by our customers when it hits the stores in February 2019,” says Irina. “The exercise really showed us how diverse the product could be. That’s why we brought all the different props and accessories to the museum.”

Three persons taking mobile photos of two women with wine glasses, plus a woman pouring them drinks.
SVANÖ trellis.