Four men standing close together, one holding up a phone to snap a group selfie.

Multifunction won the heart of the jury

Shelves made out of rubber bands and multifunctional metal hexagons won the heart of the jury. Not one, but two finalists were awarded at last week’s Democratic Design Challenge at the IKEA Festival in Milan.

To make it into production at IKEA, products must fulfil the five dimensions of Democratic Design: great form, high quality, good function and be as sustainable as possible. All of the above at a low price. It is truly a challenge, and this is why IKEA invited design schools in Milan to see how design students relate to the concept.

Out of forty-six entries, six were chosen to present at the IKEA Festival in Milan in front of a jury consisting of Belen Frau, CEO of IKEA Italy, Marcus Engman, Head of design at IKEA and Sabine Berntsson, Business area manager at IKEA.

“I think great ideas and design should be for the many people. Why keep the good ideas to yourself?” asked Marcus Engman rhetorically. He used their new chair ODGER as an example, developed in cooperation with Swedish design studio Form Us with Love. The chair is lightweight, beautiful and can be dismantled with a click, reducing volume when shipped. It is made out of plastic and recycled wood chips, making it more sustainable since less oil is required to make the plastic.

An exhibition space where a man wearing a microphone is turned towards three nearby people seated in armchairs.
Abhimanyu Singh pitching to the jury. Belen Frau, CEO of IKEA Italy, Marcus Engman, Head of design at IKEA and Sabine Berntsson, Business area manager at IKEA.

After the initial presentation by Marcus Engman and host Nikolaj Fremming from Danish Architects Nik Extension, responsible for designing the IKEA Festival area, the students were invited up on stage. The contestants originating from China, India, Lebanon and Italy had five minutes each for their presentations, after which they got a five-minute feedback from the Jury.

First up was Enrico Comentale, Giorgio Bonadei and José Limbert who had designed a modular bookshelf of wood where the shelves inside were made out of rubber bands. It could be used as a shelf and at the same time work as a separator in the room.

Next, Chantal Mhanna showed a smart wooden chair that could be connected to others like a puzzle. Tommaso Benzoni’s combined Bluetooth speaker and phone charger got some tricky questions from the jury regarding the technology and how it would be solved. Lei Monica Chen presented a clever multifunctional solution for the contemporary nomad called CartEsio. The trolley could carry personal items and be transformed into a working space, even containing a bed! Li Xiaohi addressed the environmental issue of waste textile and presented a noise reducing wall panel made out of recycled cloth and paper.

Three men standing side by side, one holding a square prototype.
Designers Enrico Comentale, Giorgio Bonadei and José Limbert with their winning prototype, SVEG.
A man dressed in white standing in front of a concrete wall.
Young designer on his way to Älmhult, Abhimanyu Singh.

Last, Abhimanyu Singh showcased his Hexpressions, a multifunctional easily shipped metal plate that could be combined into a variety of things. For example a mirror, shelf or a wall plantation.

After deliberating for ten minutes, the jury entered the stage and thanked all the contestants for their beautiful presentations and efforts. They had trouble choosing just one winner and surprised everyone by inviting two of the entries to come to Democratic Design Days in Älmhult, Sweden. Together with IKEA, they will further develop their prototypes at the IKEA prototype shop.

The two winners of the Democratic Design Challenge 2017 are Enrico Comentale, Giorgio Bonadei and José Limbert for their bookshelf SVEG and Abhimanyu Singh for Hexpressions.

When announcing the winners, Marcus Engman said he’s looking forward to making a prototype of SVEG in the IKEA prototype shop together with the designers. And he singled out Singh’s Hexpression for taking on the problem of storage, one of the biggest problems that IKEA customers are dealing with today.

We’ll be there to report on their progress during the Democratic Design Days.

A small circle of men, looking at each other and smiling.
The winners and Head of Design at IKEA, Marcus Engman.