Portrait of a woman with a patterned multicolour fabric behind her.

Sara and the love of colours

Sara thinks in colour in everything she does. We talked to the IKEA Product Developer about the coming summer collection, inclusiveness and how she coordinates all the hues surrounding her.

When Sara enters a room she automatically starts to coordinate all the colours she sees. In her mind she draws a web of connections between objects in matching shades. She is fully aware that her system does not always make sense to anyone but herself.

We meet Sara Ottosson, Product Developer, in the prototype lab in the heart of IKEA in Älmhult. The whole floor is filled with ideas in different stages of development, from early sketches pinned to the walls to products ready for launch. She points at a yellow chair at the other end of the room and describes how she, in her mind, connects that chair with a yellow stool peeking out from behind a wall and a bright sample from a swatch book right next to us.

“Colours are a big part of my life and I have coordinated them this way as long as I can remember. I take all the colours in a room and immediately arrange them. First I thought that everyone did that,” says Sara.

Two women holding up a fabric with a multicolour pattern with hand-drawn faces on it, and a similar drawing.

Pieces of fabric on top of each other, with multicolour floral patterns.

Sara has been a part of the product development process at IKEA for nine years now, and has worked with Cooking and Eating, Decoration, and Home organization. That means lots of cutlery, trays, napkins and all the other things you need to set a table. Lately she has been involved in the SUMMER and the WINTER collections.

She thinks in colour in everything she does. So it is easy to understand why she asked the design collective Textilgruppen and Papperian to collaborate in next year’s summer collection SOMMAR2019. The differently-abled artists from Växjö, Sweden are known for their creative mindset and bold, colourful designs.

“Together they match everything in a very nice way. The artists combine a bold simplicity with intricate details and have an eye for colour combinations when they build onto each other’s work. If one artist, for example, makes a drawing the next transforms it into an embroidery,” says Sara.

When Sara studied design in Växjö she worked with differently-abled people. Among other things she arranged outdoor activities. Some of the participants were also engaged in art and textile, and that is how she first learned about the collective Papperian and Textilgruppen.

“I have known them for a long time and I used to buy handmade Christmas cards from their store. When I started at IKEA I said to myself that we definitely should collaborate with them sometime,” says Sara.

A woman at a table with a patterned multicolour tablecloth and a patterned multicolour fabric behind her.

It wasn’t just the collective’s vivid colours and bold patterns that made her want to collaborate, she also wanted to do something more important than the product itself.

“Equality and human dignity is crucial to me. If you have worked with differently-abled people, a collection like SOMMAR2019 is even more important. In this collaboration we focus on what you are good at. Not the disability but the ability,” says Sara.

Two years ago the collective was given different inspirational themes associated with summer. They arranged workshops and it resulted in sketches, textile prints, embroidery and ceramics. Then it was time for Sara, together with the IKEA team, to transform it into a summer collection.

So, what happened to their patterns and artwork?

“Together with my team here at IKEA we looked at everything to see how we could make it work. For example, if we need a pattern that doesn’t have an up or down we need to simplify. We chose patterns and shapes that could work. We would scan everything into the computer and develop an idea for a pattern while changing the artwork as little as possible.”

Some of the collective’s work transformed in the opposite way. Sara describes an embroidery of a hefty tea pot. When they saw it they all agreed that they had to turn it three dimensional – into a real tea pot.

Is there anything else from the collaboration you are especially satisfied with?

“The ceramic animals. They are really like the way we got them. Well, except one that was huge,” says Sara

A group of women gathered around some colourful pattern designs.

Two blue ceramic decorations shaped like animals, white crockery and two multicolour treys on a multicolour tablecloth.

Sara describes the summer collection as a combination of patterns inspired by the 60’s both soft and busy flower power. The striking colours must be right down her ally.

“That is exactly what I love. Colours get me started,” says Sara.

What brought you to design and product development in the first place?

“I have always been sewing and drawing. When I was young I dyed and altered everything that came my way, including the clothes for my 52 Barbie dolls. My mum told me that I used to plump up the pillows and move things around every time we visited the IKEA store in my hometown Västerås.”

52 Barbie dolls! Do you still collect things?

”Not really, even if I have a hard time throwing away anything that means something to me. And I easily connect to items. I actually cried after I sold my first computer! We still laugh a lot about that.”


Favourite colour (we need to know now): Yellow in (almost) all shades makes me happy!

Reading right now: The Swedish children’s book ”Petter och hans fyra getter” by Einar Norelius.

In my headphones: I only use headphones on flights … but we listen and dance to music a lot at home. Mainly happy funk and soul.

If I didn’t choose design: It was always both music and design for me, but I finally had to choose. I started playing the trombone when I was little, and there was a music scene in Västerås where I grew up that encouraged many girls to play in bands, me included. Even if I finally chose to study design I never put the trombone aside.

How would your friends describe your home: Colourful and lots of small and quirky things.