Understanding life at home

The home furnishing competence within IKEA starts at home. To understand the many individual people’s needs and dreams. With a new home visit tool, better insights and an interior master class the development of home furnishing competence continues.

The IKEA Concept has always been about more than just furniture. In order to ‘create a better every day life,’ there must be a deep understanding of what everyday life is like for many people. That’s why, over the last 50 years, we have been working towards becoming experts in life at home. And the learning never stops 2014 being no exception.

Students in a room

Home visits go digital

Every year co-workers from across the IKEA world conduct hundreds of home visits and interviews. The aim is to get a deeper knowledge of how different people live; understand what works, what their frustrations are, what their every day looks like and hear wishes and dreams for better homes. IKEA of Sweden AB then uses these insights as input to developing the IKEA product range. IKEA Communications uses them to produce the artwork for the IKEA catalogue and website. And every IKEA store uses insights to create new, improved and locally relevant solutions.

This year there have been big developments in a home visit app. A global questionnaire has been used for home visits for some years, but the app version offers a more practical solution. Karin Peterson, Interior Design Specialist at Inter IKEA Systems Service AB describes the benefits of the questionnaire going digital: “The home visits app not only makes it more efficient to actually fill out the questionnaire, but also makes it possible to share and compare insights on a global level.”

This year, a pilot project was also kicked-off to test how the app and digital devices could benefit home visits. Interviewers used a tablet device for home visits together with the home visit app and an online tool. Questionnaires, photos, results and insights were then uploaded into a searchable database. Tiffany Buckins, Country Communication & Interior Design Manager for IKEA Australia, has been using the digital tools for the last few months as part of the pilot. She describes the benefits they are already seeing. “As a result of the digital tools we now have instant results that are easy to review, compare and form conclusions on from a country and store perspective. Ultimately over time the tool will support us in truly having a deep knowledge of how people live, and will ensure room settings are always relevant.”

Sharing knowledge – The ‘Life at Home Report’

IKEA of Sweden also works with renowned research institutions to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research into life at home. This year for the first time the research was shared publicly in the IKEA ‘Life at Home Report’.

Among other things, the report details the habits of people in eight major cities. In keeping with the 2014 theme – ‘where every day begins and ends’ – the first edition focused on morning rituals. Insights included the way Londoners shower for an average of 12 minutes, and that almost 50% of people in Shanghai value self-reflection in the morning.

So why did we decide to share the research? As Mikael Ydholm, Head of Research at IKEA of Sweden, puts it, “We want people to know how much thought and knowledge goes into the products we develop.” The hope is that seeing the research will also give people a greater sense of value. “People don’t only want to shop for stuff,” says Mia Lundström, Creative Director Home Furnishing at IKEA of Sweden, “they want added value and something they hadn’t thought of before.”

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Discovering the home of tomorrow

Curiosity is key to IKEA research, but it goes beyond the here and now. In order to really make a difference to people’s homes, we need to not only follow current trends, but also anticipate them. This is what IKEA of Sweden calls the Future Homes Initiative.

Future Homes is dedicated to creating the beautiful, functional and sustainable homes of tomorrow. As part of this effort, IKEA of Sweden has opened a ‘Home Living Lab’ in Malmö, Sweden. The “lab” is actually a fully functioning apartment where real families live for a period of two weeks. During their stay the families test out and record experiences of future living solutions such as charging systems and flexible walls. Since the solutions are not part of regular range development, ideas can be tested quickly. “We can be really brave in the lab,” says Eva-Carin Banka Johnson, Project Manager for Future Homes. “We can quickly explore options – even ones that might fail.”

The Future Homes initiative has also established a method to track people’s emotions, rather than the usual rational reactions. “Tracking the families’ emotions allows us to see how living environments have a direct affect on behavior and relationships,” says Eva-Carin. One father reported that the ease of living in the apartment led to fewer conflicts in his family. “Now that’s really helping people to have a better everyday life,” says Eva-Carin.

Store room set

A master class in thinking for yourself

In order to raise the level of home furnishing solutions we have become known for, IKEA interior designers need to continually develop and be inspired. In 2013 the Interior Design Master Class was launched and was rolled out during 2014.

The training programme is open to professional Interior Designers from all over the IKEA world. After a rigorous application process, 20 participants are selected to attend the programme, which last six weeks spread over a four month period taking place in the IKEA Concept Center in Delft, the Netherlands as well as in Sweden. The participants take part in lectures by experts from both outside and inside the IKEA world. They conduct home visit interviews and are trained in selling their ideas by a personal coach. The Interior Designers then use the interview results, training, trends and research to develop room settings.

Gwladys Roux, Interior Designer at IKEA Toulon store, France participated in the first master class. Here she shares the impact on her work “The master class made me realise how important home visit interveiws are. To really know who and how people live in your market, wherever you are, is key to resonating with store visitors. I realise that in order to be relevant in our job, we have to understand how people live, and what their dreams are, and propose home furnishing solutions just in between dreams and reality.”

Mikael Berryman at Inter IKEA Systems, Programme Manager for the master class adds, “As a master of interior design you learn how to ‘connect the dots’ between research, range, trends, and even how to reach early adopters.” He continues, “The course doesn’t teach Interior Designers what room settings should look like – it teaches them how to design and think for themselves.”

Discovering the expert in all of us

Getting a broad and in-depth understanding of life at home is key to the continuous development of IKEA home furnishings. Training and research help fuel the passion and curiosity for life at home. But not all research and development needs to be done on a grand scale. Anna Berg, Head of Home Furnishing at Inter IKEA Systems says, “We often rely on the big research, but one of the best ways to learn is to go to the IKEA store and observe people, and talk to them.”

Mia Lundström also thinks it’s important to de-dramatize how we gain knowledge. She says that we have to conduct research and have respect for it, “But we also need to utilize the potential and knowledge that we have in ourselves. After all,” she explains, “We all know about life at home.”