Three women stand by a large table filled with papers and sketches in a spacious studio.

We call it live prototyping

During IKEA Democratic Design Day teams of designers, product developers and engineers got together to experiment and transform IKEA classics in our Prototype Shop, putting a new spin on products we love.

Where ideas become reality

Prototypes are an important part of the product development process. It is an opportunity to try out and evaluate a creative idea or a specific functionality. Working in the IKEA Prototype Shop are specialists in wood, metal, textiles, surface treatment and 3D printing. It is like we have taken bits and pieces from different factory floors and gathered them in one place in the Democratic Design Centre at IKEA of Sweden. Lucky us!

Prototype Shop Manager Henrik Holmberg shares his description of his workplace: “Here we nurture inspiration, and turn ideas into reality.”

“When we build a prototype we can experience the design, dimensions, comfort and other functionalities of a product. Then we can fine-tune it to achieve the desired outcome, before moving on and producing it on a bigger scale”, Henrik Holmberg continues.

Jon Karlsson, Designer at IKEA, describes the Prototype Shop like this: “It reminds me of Santa’s workshop. I can move directly from computer sketches to an in-house factory floor, working with my hands and correcting any errors along the way.”

Sheets of paper filled with sketches of cabinet designs and a few pens lie scattered across a worktop.

Live prototyping during DDD

During Democratic Design Day the EKTORP sofa, BESTÅ storage system, and MASKROS pendant lamps were subjected to some serious experimentation. Visitors had the chance to observe from the front row.

Inspired by the art of folding paper into three-dimensional objects

“With the help of a packaging engineer we managed to fold cardboard in origami-style, creating a decorative shape for the BESTÅ front,” says Jon Karlsson, Designer at IKEA. “This expression was realized in a cutting machine for cardboard packaging solutions.”

The BESTÅ frame was given a new suit, basically dressed with plywood, the front remaining inside the plywood box. With a stand, shaped with the same thin silhouette as the frame constructing a freestanding BESTÅ furnishing, the cupboard can be placed somewhere special in the home.

Doing these kinds of workshops, in the early stages of the design process means that designers, product developers and engineers – the whole team – can be on the same page for future product development. They can refer to the actual work and discussions they have had.

“This is an explorative way to move outside of our comfort zone, try and test new ideas. We can do things first and think afterward. The mix of professions and different tools we’ve mastered enables us to realize our ideas, sometimes in unexpected ways,” he finishes.

A sideboard formed by a light-wood top and underlying cabinets with white, corrugated cardboard fronts.

A small, box-shaped, plywood cabinet sitting on a high, spindly metal frame.

Someone’s trash – another’s treasure

Wiebke Braasch, Designer at IKEA, stumbled upon some leftovers of the packaging of the BESTÅ storage system whilst playing with the MASKROS pendant lamp. “I crinkled the paper, and the small creases created an interesting and effortless feeling. What would otherwise be trash has now been given a new life”, she says.

In another corner, the MASKROS pendant lamp took on a different and surprising form.

“While assembling the frame I placed it on the table and it started to wobble all by itself,” says Mikael Axelsson, Designer at IKEA. “It reminded me of those classic wind-up toys that have been around for as long as I can remember. We were thinking about how we could replace or imitate the wind-up power. We realized that the PRODUKT milk skimmer in our existing range just might be the solution for the figure we sought to create.”

This is an explorative way to move outside of our comfort zone, try and test new ideas. We can do things first and think afterward.

MASKROS was transformed into an abstract figure, some kind of toy. The milk skimmer makes the new creation shake and move in an extraordinary way. The pencils attached as legs creates a playful and interesting pattern on a piece of paper on the floor.

“We blew up a pair of latex gloves, and ‘borrowed’ two ping-pong balls from the ping pong table area, that finalized the details”, continues Mikael.

Normally, when working with prototypes designers have clearer briefs about what they want to accomplish. Working with little, or no directions, opens up for crazier creativeness that can generate ideas that can be developed further in another context. “Coming to work today, I didn’t have a clue about what product we were going to explore,” says Mikael.

A lit pendant lamp with a spherical shade formed by white, crumpled paper.

A creature made of a round, metal-and-plastic lamp frame, ballooning dishwashing gloves and plastic balls with drawn eyes.

With inspiration from Indian homes

“We looked for ways to place the traditional and Scandinavian EKTORP sofa in a new context. We had an initial talk about IKEA opening in new markets such as India, becoming accessible for more people. We wanted to explore how the EKTORP sofa could be inspired by Indian homes”, says Akanksha Deo, Design Intern at IKEA.

“Jhoola or jhula is the Hindi expression for swing or swinging seating arrangement, which is typical in Indian homes. A jhoola is characterized by being very elaborate; it can be luxurious with decorative wood and lots of cushioning, or neater and simpler with a plank and metal strings,” Akanksha, herself born and raised in India, continues. Regardless of style, the soothing rocking motion and carefully considered placement, inside or on the porch, makes a jhoola the perfect place to unwind.

With inspiration from Indian jhoolas, the EKTORP sofa was narrowed and the backrest removed. An interesting contrast is created by the black denim as cover material and handles in hemp. Along with the wooden stand, you can already imagine the seating swinging softly a few inches from the ground.

“By experimenting with our own products we can get new insights, angles and ideas about what people might need and want. Today we experienced and explored our products in a new way,” says Johanna Jelinek, Designer at IKEA.

A blue, backless, two-seat sofa suspended in straps beneath a frame in light wood.

A rocking chair in the form of an armchair without any textile cover stands by a row of lockers.