Two students, head to head, looking down at their project.

The scent of creativity

The refreshing scent of ideation was in the air at the co-creation site at IKEA of Sweden recently as students from Royal College of Art in London came to Älmhult for a two-day workshop with IKEA and Swedish fragrance company Byredo.

Some aromas create a sense of comfort and security – the smell of our home or someone’s perfume. Others make us happy, triggering childhood memories like the smell of summer rain on dry asphalt or freshly cut grass. But what does creativity smell like? Well, when joining the workshop, our nose tells us that orange peel and cardboard may be among the base notes.

IKEA and the founder of Byredo, Ben Gorham, are exploring new ways of bringing scent into the home. It’s as much an exploration of a democratic approach to one of five senses, smell, as it’s a curious collaboration to look into each other’s worlds.

“From the side of IKEA, we’re looking into how we can change people’s homes through the days, not just through the years – through making moods in their homes. If you look on Spotify, for instance, the most important part to search for music is through moods, because moods are changing during the day and through seasons. This is the inspiration we and Byredo are working with right now,” says Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA.

Marcus Engman standing beside some stairs with white railing.
Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA

That’s really an inspirational challenge to take on. So, how can people, in new ways, express their personality and their moods through scents in the different parts of the home?

This was the brief that the students at the Interior Design programme at RCA got before starting off the workshop in the IKEA Democratic design centre.

As with all product development within IKEA, the ideas must be developed through the principles of Democratic Design and researched through home visits, because that’s a crucial way of how IKEA gains knowledge. The ideas are then followed by a narrative on how to interact with the potential customers.

At hand, the students had the Prototype Shop, their regular professor and tutors, Ben and his co-workers from Byredo as well as Marcus and IKEA Product Developers and Product Engineers. They were soon lost in the world of Democratic Design, coming up with some great ideas that will really blow your mind.

A sense of the scented home

How about a “home fragrance player” that releases scents in a similar way to how a spinning vinyl record player plays music? Or scented picture frames that adds smell to your memories? Or would you buy a flat pack smelling-device for your Billy bookcase? Although the ideas sound like something from science fiction they may be closer to realisation than many of us realise.

“We have an extended idea of launching a limited edition of party albums, where the smell will get more intense and follow the scheme of a party,” says Stephanie Tatimu, whose group invented the player.

The idea wouldn’t just work for parties, but for a range of occasions including romantic date nights. The group also came up with the idea of mixed records, where you push buttons to choose the optional smell for the mood.

Hands working with drawings, a mockup of a design and a white plastic box with compartments at a wooden table.
Could a fragrance player be the distributor of scent?

Another group is more into aroma memories.

“IKEA is recognised for their picture frames, so we started to think about framing memories by scent. Right now we’re exploring different types of tape to capture the scent”, the students says.

The group have thought in different terms of frames. Doorframes and window frames are interesting, because then the scent can be released by the swing of a door.

“The movement will create the smell, but it will also support that particular memory in the future, when you remember the entering to the home.”

Some other students are looking into self-assembling and flat-packs and how scent can be added to IKEAs bestsellers.

“There’s a device to start with, that will be filled with different fragranced components. The mixed combination of those will add identity to your space and create uniqueness in an era of mass-production. We think this could be one of the ways to personalise your own space using smelling items,” says Riya Agarwal.

Hands taking a mobile photo of a hand-drawn sketch on a wooden table, with pens, post-its and other items lying around.

A woman cutting a piece of cardboard with a knife on top of a workbench.

What will happen next?

The aromatic collaboration between IKEA and Byredo will result in a collection in 2019. And of course there’s an incentive for the students. It consists of two parts – the best ideas are to be presented during the Democratic Design Days from 7–8 June, and the opportunity to get the ideas into the running range of IKEA.

The workshop was a starting point for the co-creation with RCA. The final step of the working process will be in May, when IKEA and Byredo will visit them in their London location.

Only the future will tell if it’s going to be possible to also record or capture scents, but one thing is sure if we listen to Marcus – the future is digital – and the next logical step of exploring the scented home will be to think in terms of the digitalisation of aromas.

A woman by a pin-board speaking to a group of people in an office setting.
Students presenting the first ideas.