Johan on storytelling and circularity by design
Already as a design student, Johan Ejdemo was more inspired by the potential of the collective than the competitive. Now, he's stepping in to form part of the first-ever duo of IKEA design managers. We talked to Johan about the perks of leading together, designing for circularity, and the stories design can – and should – tell.
Johan Ejdemo comes from a long line of storytellers. Growing up in a family with roots in Torne Valley, the northernmost region of Sweden, stories about people, happenings and everyday life were regularly shared in the home. And while Johan broke with one family tradition as a teen when he decided to become a carpenter instead of pursuing social work or pedagogy, he's kept those of social commitment, craft, and storytelling close to heart throughout his creative career.
"One of the greatest things we can do is to create joy for another human being. Design is a tool for that", says Johan. "As a designer, I also see history in good design. What was once good design might not be any longer, but the design should tell a story about the context in which it was once made to create joy or fulfil a need. Take a low-cost plastic bag to bring groceries home in, for example. It was a smart idea with the new material opportunities at the time, but now I'm sure we'd disagree".
"My first job was actually to develop specifications for the production of board on frame, one of the biggest earlier innovations within lightweight materials at IKEA", he recalls, adding that coming from a production background, he's always been interested in material. But it would be less than a year before Johan moved into product development, and he's had a variety of creative roles across IKEA in the more than twenty years since.
"There's something fantastic about what we can achieve when we work together across functions. You can tell from the products that there's been great teamwork throughout the value chain. That's when Democratic Design happens", he says.
A dynamic duo by design
As he prepares to step into his new role alongside Design Manager Eva Lilja Löwenhielm, Johan feels excited about the prospects of what they will be able to achieve together.
"We both believe in design as a tool to create change and the need to bring the right things to the table to motivate the work", he says.
But their collective strength will also lie in their differences, much like the rewarding collaborative work Johan's previously been part of at IKEA.
"Eva supports the practical design process and works with simplicity, beauty, and design identity on a product level. I really respect her experience with this and creating a Scandinavian design identity. It's far greater than my own", he says.
Johan himself brings a perspective further informed by insights on everything from qualitative data to the changes possible in production.
"We have a lot of knowledge at IKEA. Part of my job will be to sift through it to focus on what helps us be clear about our values and makes a positive impact on life at home", he says. And he looks forward to being part of bringing these insights to a creative environment.
"I really enjoy working with creative people. It's very stimulating to work in an environment where you can focus on steering something that's running at full speed rather than having to start it up", he says. "And Eva and I have a lot of fun working together. The perk of doing so here, in this role, is that we will also have more power to take on bigger challenges."
Designing stories for the times
Taking on bigger challenges is an overall ambition at IKEA, which aims to become a circular business by 2030.
"Circular design is about democratising products, making them both more sustainable and affordable", says Johan. "The first part of it will always be about material and production conditions and making the most out of it by design. The second part is about the design system in a wider context, and here, I think we have one of the biggest tasks ahead of us. We're learning and working together to normalise a new development culture that embraces these questions."
As for the story the designs of our times should tell in the future, the plot is clear. It involves working towards sustainability.
"If you don't work responsibly with design, it won't be good for this time. I believe anyone with most of their lives ahead of them would agree with that", says Johan. "How we approach sustainability in design will be different going forward. We're working to be better not just at developing things in a good way, but also at designing products that are sustainable to develop from."
It's a question that hits close to home for Johan, who has a lot of personal experience with packing, unpacking, and simply making things work in a new home.
"For a long time, I would move every two or three years. It teaches you a lot about being smart with your things. You see what lasts, what you need, and what you don't. We can all be better at making choices that make a difference. And at IKEA, with our insights into life at home, we can be better at inspiring and enabling people to live a more sustainable everyday life", says Johan.
"Not only do we have an opportunity to take the lead in our industry to make a difference, with the scale we have – we have the responsibility to. I'm honoured to be given this role to help do so."
Johan will step into his role as Design Manager alongside current Design Manager Eva Lilja Löwenhielm on 1 January 2022.
Born: 1969 in Gävle.
Lives: In a townhouse in Lund.
Something that inspires me: People and the everyday are a never-ending source of inspiration to me.
Favourite IKEA product: We have some PAX closets that have been with us for a very long time. I've repainted them several times, and every time I do, they feel brand new.
A product I would have designed differently today: Some of the furniture I've made for the workplace definitely became a bit too multifunctional. I would have a much simpler and straightforward approach to the designs today.
A future material I'd like to work with: I'll always hold wood close to heart. I'd love to see some of the technologies that leave its natural beauty intact—connected to hardening or bending it—develop into a broader field of applications.
Most important in a team: Having fun, trust in each other, and a shared higher motivation.
What home is to me: A place that is warm and welcoming, where I come together with family and friends. I'm a creative person, so it's not the most orderly or minimalistic, but contains many things—things I connect with, filled with memories.