‘Swedish magic’: IKEA research tailors furniture to your taste – USA TODAY
It was shoe leather, and lots of it.
Ikea sends about 1,000 employees each year toÂ sleuth in homesÂ worldwide from New York to ShanghaiÂ to find out what people need. They watch residentsÂ get ready for work,Â eatÂ and entertainÂ friends. They observe them cooking and doing laundry andÂ ask why they store their pots and pans where they do and how they use the clothes hamper when it’s not holding clothes. The researchersÂ even spy on how people use their bathrooms.
Ikea supplements the in-person visitsÂ with thousands of written questionnaires to other consumers worldwide, as many as 12,000 at a time.
The information isÂ stirred into a massive research-and-design stew âÂ whichÂ is howÂ someone folding clothes in London might determine the laundry hamper you buy when Ikea opens in Fishers this fall.
The pieces shoppers see and buy will have been put through a Scandinavian grinder, tested in the field forÂ their practicality, versatilityÂ and, most importantly,Â low price.
“Affordability is always at the top of the list, but this researchÂ gives us an idea of what people demand andÂ use the most,” said Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth.
In addition to home visits, the company produces intense, specialized behavior studies. A report onÂ how and where mothers play with their children led to the the design of a coffeeÂ tableÂ with rounded corners. Research about how lighting affects a home dweller’s mood produced an app-based dimmer that can adjust light color, tones and brightness.
Many of the home visits are in densely populated cities, such as New York, London, Moscow, Shanghai, and Paris, where living spaces are tight and rooms have several functions. A 2015 report on how people prepare and eat food revealed that 35 percent of people never eat in the kitchen. The information isÂ used to consider how pieces of furniture in other rooms might accommodate dining.
“Since more people are moving into cities, space is becoming less available. We are moving away from rooms that have a dedicated purpose,” the 2015 Ikea Home Report reads.”Having one specific room for just eating, watching television or working is a thing of the past. Nowadays, we donât just eat in the dining room;Â we eat all over the home.”
The smaller spaces means furniture that can be moved easily or used in more than one way. At the same time, the home has to serve other functions as well, Ikea research found.
In one of its reports, researchers probed how people make their apartmentsÂ homey. AboutÂ 40 percent said their homes have a distinct smell, and 65 percent of millennials said they play music to generate atmosphere. More than 18Â percent said their homesÂ were too bright. Home is also where friendships are forged; 48Â percent of respondents said their most important relationships are cultivated at home so they need spaceÂ both to entertain and to find solitude. Â At the same time, many said Wi-Fi and working spaces are increasingly crucial in maintaining social relationships so furniture is being developed that serves those purposes.
In a study of peoples’ morning habits, the company extracted information that may seem irrelevant, but could inform design decisions later.
In New York, Ikea found, 51 percent of the populationÂ wakes up before 7 a.m.Â and 12 percent do some work from home before leaving for the day. More than 60 percent of New Yorkers eat breakfast at home, and 56 percent take their showers in the morning, for an average of 14 minutes.
Rick Bomberger, a senior lecturer of merchandising at the Indiana UniversityÂ School of Art and DesignÂ said Ikea’s home visits are bringing furniture design up to speed with long-time practices of fashion design.
“Apparel has been doing that for 40 to 50 years, walking the streets in Paris to see what end users are wearing,” said Bomberger, who worked for The Gap Inc. and Paul Harris and is a consultant for furniture companies.
Ikea started the trend of profiling customers in furniture, but it accelerated about 10 years ago when other retailers began designing their own furniture rather than buying it from a manufacturer. Only a huge corporation such asÂ Ikea can afford extensive home visits, but smaller companies have their own methods, suchÂ as attending trade shows and reading trade publications.
“It’s a very hot topic, profiling the customers,” said Bomberger, who teaches a course in field work. “You learnÂ that by going into the field.”
Though many of Ikea’s ideas are drawn from visiting small apartments, the furniture is desirable in any sized home, Bomberger said. Saving space leaves room for other uses no matter where one lives,Â he said. “Even in a big house in Geist, people want efficiency.” he said.
Bruce Tucker, co-founder of Octane Seating of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., whichÂ makes furniture for Best Buy and other large retailers, said he hadn’t heard of Ikea homes visits but they seem useful Â â if you can afford them
“Typically, that is not how it is done,” he said.
Tucker said usuallyÂ retailers gather feedback from customers at their stores and tell manufacturers what the consumers want. The manufacturer then produces three or four prototypes that are displayed at big furniture shows inÂ High Point, N.C., or Las Vegas, and the store owners can order them
“For example, retailers might tell the manufacturer that people are asking for high-backÂ chairs or more recliners, and the manufacturerÂ will respond,” he said. If the pieces do well at the stores, the owners will ask for more the next year, or one with certain alternations, depending on what customers are saying.
Tucker described the process as “painfully slow,” but Roth said Ikea’s production is even slower â almost three years â because the companyÂ spends so much time designing, pricing and manufacturing furniture for more than 300 stores worldwide.
Kevin Woolley, an assistant professor of interior design at Purdue University, agreed that the home visits are unusual.
“Typically, clients walk inÂ to a furniture showroomÂ and are serviced by either salespeople or in-house designers or both,” Woolley said.Â “The idea of aÂ presale home visitÂ runs contrary toÂ the norm.”
But he said Ikea’s practiceÂ was a good one.
“The personal touch approachÂ is definitely where designers need to be â now more than ever,” Woolley said.
Indianapolis resident Alexandra Geske, 35, has been shopping at Ikea for 10 years, and said it was apparent that Ikea has researched how customers like to use furniture.
“There’s a lot of functionality to it, and it fits so so seamlessly into you homeÂ you barely notice it, whichÂ is the way I think itÂ should be,” Geske said.
Geske said she has bought carpets, tables and chairs and outfitted her kitchen from Ikea stores nationwide, including the one closest to IndianapolisÂ in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, Ohio.
“Each time I go, I know I’m going to drop a few hundred dollars,”Â she said. “I equipped my son’s entire room from Ikea. I built a drafting table out of their sawhorses and a wood plank.”
Lindsay De Las Alas, 27, who lives in Downtown Indianapolis, said she recently moved from a 1,000-square-foot home to one threeÂ times largerÂ and decorated it entirely from products bought at Ikea in West Chester.
“Couches, beds, mattresses, textiles, blankets, curtains,” De Las Alas said. “The furniture is nothing special, but it is very functional at a low price.”
De Las Alas said she hadn’t been aware of the home visits, “but it kind of make sense now.”
“I always thought the company kind of ‘gets it’,” she said. “But I attributed it to Scandinavian ingenuity. Now I know it wasn’t just Swedish magic.”
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