Man drawing on paper with lots of glitter and colour.

Play is serious business at IKEA

Play is a great way to make our everyday lives better. And it’s not just for kids! While researching the IKEA Play Report 2017, IKEA held a workshop where co-workers and consumers came up with ideas for making the IKEA range more playful. How about a lamp that snows or a sofa that doubles as a trampoline?

IKEA Intelligence Specialist, Lydia Choi-Johansson, is leading the research into play. We asked her why IKEA is so interested in play. “We want to understand the activities that go on in people’s lives at home. We have found out that play is something fundamental that enables people to really enjoy their life at home so that’s why we want to understand play.”

The IKEA Play Report has a history; IKEA has conducted some of the world’s largest research studies on the topic of play. Starting in 2009 IKEA did 10,000 interviews with parents and children across the world about child development and play. This was followed up in 2014 by interviewing almost 30,000 parents and children again on the same topics but also included teenagers’ perceptions of family life at home. In 2017, IKEA is taking it even further, and exploring the importance of play for adults as well as children.

How can IKEA make their products and solutions more playful? That was the question asked during the workshop at IKEA Museum in Älmhult. Attending were co-workers working with product development for the bathroom and Children’s IKEA, innovation and management; as well as fifteen Swedish consumers with ages ranging from 27 to 65. The Play Report is due to be launched at the beginning of November.

A smiling woman wearing a yellow floral dress. Another woman stands behind her.
Intelligence Specialist at IKEA, Lydia Choi-Johansson taking part in the workshop.

During the workshop, Lydia and her team are starting to hand over the work to the rest of IKEA. “In my role, I try to understand what’s going on around the world by collecting and digesting information and stories people tell us. Then I try to deliver our insights to product developers, range managers and so on so that they can understand and start thinking. I try to inspire them with research.”

Play is something fundamental that enables people to really enjoy their life at home so that’s why we want to understand play.

Delivering insights instead of mountains of facts enables all of IKEA to move in the same direction. And doing a workshop with insights is something that Maria Thörn, IKEA Range Competence Manager, sees as a way of enriching the product development process. “It unleashes creativity, I think that’s the thing. Already, at this early stage, what we are doing here is creating ideas for products, fantastic products,” she says.

Before the 2017 Play Report is even launched, IKEA is keen to start developing more playful products and solutions across the whole range. “For this workshop, we want to see play from the consumers’ perspective, from their everyday living and everyday stories. We want to be inspired by their ideas,” says Lydia.

Smiling people around a sculpture made of dry spaghetti and marshmallows.

A playful atmosphere leads to playful ideas, here the team building activity – the marshmallow challenge.

A man wearing a woollen hat holds two pieces of play dough, one yellow and one pink.

André Buha from Sweden spent the day at the IKEA Museum coming up with new ideas for the IKEA range.

The day is peppered with laughter inducing team-building exercises and participants making the most of all the colourful tools available. In the morning session, IKEA explains where they are in the research project and their conclusions so far. Perfect brain-fodder to be used in the afternoon session where participants work in teams coming up with ideas and solutions.

For Maria, in her role, this day is a chance for her “to get a little bit wild and have crazy ideas because then it’s our job to take it down later on to something that is actually doable.”

At this workshop, some future products at IKEA might have already started their development journey. “We will always remember this occasion when we sat together in the IKEA Museum. It’s always strong when you have consumers involved in the beginning,” says Maria.

Brainstorming with consumers

Taking part in the workshop are consumers from all walks of life with very different interpretations of play. The nature of play was one of the first things discussed amongst participants and all agreed that play is deeply personal and that there is no right or wrong when it comes to play.

One of the participants, André Buha, 39 years old who works with elderly care, says just after lunch that “I see where we are going. The day is like a small puzzle with many pieces. Two or three or four or five individuals can’t come up with a razor-sharp idea on their own, but you take a piece from here and here and here and it becomes like a rough diamond and then you polish it.”

Someone cutting paper with scissors and a woman laughing in the background.
Carin Wengelin, Information Manager at Children’s IKEA, rapid-prototyping during the workshop.

For André, technology doesn’t hinder playing, in fact, he sees it as being key to making the IKEA product range more playful. But Erica Petersson who is 65 and works in the metal industry, has a hard time relating to technology. “I think I am the oldest one here. We are looking at things in a really different way. We were making something that you put on your phone whilst you’re eating, so you can’t look at your phone. I can’t image that you can’t eat your dinner without using your phone.”

When we can find ways of doing the things we need to do in a bit more playful way, life becomes better.

Carin Wengelin has witnessed first-hand, the effects of play through her work as Business Information Manager at Children’s IKEA over the past five years, she says: “Play is a fantastic way to create a better everyday life. There are so many musts and chores and have-tos and shoulds in the world. When we can find ways of doing the things we need to do in a bit more playful way, life becomes better.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the next article about the workshop where we’ll be talking about some of the new products that were dreamed up during the day. A TV unit with in-built hamster tunnels anyone?

Hands working on a paper prototype. They are in action, gluing things together.
It was all hands on deck throughout the day at the workshop.

Previous IKEA Play Reports:
Play Report 2010:
 Make the world play more
Play Report 2015: Say yes to play!
Play Report 2017: Coming in November 2017