5 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About IKEA’s Danish Innovation Lab

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This is where all the cool comes from.


On a street corner in the Copenhagen neighbourhood of Kødbyen, where butchers and fishmongers sit side by side with the city’s most artistic and cultured bars and restaurants, is Space10. Push open the doors of this three-storey, nondescript office, and you’ll find a hive of creatives and entrepreneurs working on bringing fresh ideas to the flatpack behemoth IKEA.

It was March, 2014, when Carla Cammilla Hjort, the founder of creative studio ArtRebels, received a call from Torbjörn Lööf, global CEO of Inter-IKEA Group, which owns the IKEA concept and franchise. He asked Carla if she’d be willing to work together to create “a better IKEA for the future”. (ArtRebels previously collaborated with the Swedish home furnishings giant to create the wildly colourful and geometric BRÅKIG collection, also released in 2014.) Within two weeks, Carla and entrepreneur and filmmaker Simon Caspersen pitched the idea of an external innovation hub to IKEA, who readily agreed. Carla, who is now director of Space10, and its communications director Simon immediately brought in two staff members: entrepreneur Kaave Pour, as creative director, and innovation strategist Guillaume Charny-Brunet as chief innovation officer. In November 2015, Space10 threw open those doors.

If IKEA is the brain behind every piece of covetable, affordable and potentially marriage-destroying furniture, Space10 is the right frontal lobe of that brain, where creativity is king.

“What we do is we design concepts… systems [and] movements,” says Kaave. “Sometimes the output is tangible, but I think we see mostly Space10’s role as, ‘How could we design concepts that will make IKEA relevant in the future?’ And that could go beyond furniture.”

Here are five things we learnt when we stepped inside the world of SPACE10.

It doesn’t ‘design’ any products – it just designs ‘ideas’

The self-titled “future living lab” is interested in both imagining and practically workshopping concepts that will improve people’s wellbeing. To that end, it doesn’t ‘design’ any products (IKEA and some of Space10’s external partners do that) – they’re more interested in being a place where future-focused ideas are workshopped, tested and given a chance to thrive. As Kaave puts it, it’s a place where staff aim to “understand the chaos in the world, see patterns in that and put those trends into a new context”, while Simon says they “have an outside-in view on [IKEA] and our role is to challenge them and inspire new perspectives”.

“Sometimes, things are already made – often they are already made,” says Kaave. “But the way you contextualise it is what makes the big difference.”

They were responsible for the viral success of ‘The Growroom’

The work of these creatives came to heightened global prominence in March 2017, when pictures of their inhabitable urban farming pod, aptly named ‘The Growroom’, made the rounds online. The spherical three-metre-tall garden was a collaboration between Space10 and fellow Danes, architects Mads-Ulrik Husum and Sine Lindholm, and comes with downloadable instructions for at-home construction.

The functional (and highly Instagrammable) project was the result of Space10’s three-level realisation process: first, exploration, then prototyping and finally – yet only occasionally – pilots.

“Exploration [is] where we are looking for a business case [and] asking questions; not so much focusing on designing answers but often using art, technology, events and research to ask the right questions and make sure we’re going in the right direction,” says Simon. “From exploration, we go to prototyping, trying to validate and build and test an idea as fast as possible to make sure that this is actually possible in some degree; that our expectations of engagement and experience will pass the first bar.

“When we have gone through explorations and prototypes, we sometimes end up with ideas that are just too good to not try and test them, and build them up in a bigger scale – and that’s when pilots come in. Pilots [are] where we take an idea and try to test it in a real-world environment, often with the goal of actually keep[ing] on running the project afterwards.”

Read More: The Story Behind This IKEA Product Is Heartwarming

They’ve also conceptualised a number of cool tech pieces for the home

The smART wall hanging that changes colour according to water and electricity usage for homeowners made it to the prototyping stage, as well as the Cloud Burst shower faucet, which alerts the bather when they have reached their allotted shower time. Then there was the Vayü window attachment that, depending on air pollution levels, opens or closes the windows of a house accordingly. (These items came from Space10’s first project ‘Fresh Living Lab’, which was a partnership with 12 designers from the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.) Each idea – whether reaching the prototyping stage or not – is the result of careful consideration, less interested in the ‘how’ of a project, but the ‘why’.

“When we are trying to improve life for many people, we can often be caught in asking, what problems would you like us to solve?” explains Kaave. “And that’s obviously crucial, but solving a problem is only to reach zero, it’s only to fix something broken. Whereas, if we also tend to ask what dreams would you like us to enable, the list changes completely. We are very keen on trying to balance both.”

Read More: Welcome to The Neighbourhood: Dropbox HQ is a City in Itself

The office doesn’t believe in failure

“We have had a lot [of], in some eyes, ‘failures’ and unsuccessful projects, but as long as we don’t keep on doing them, it’s not really mistakes in our case,” says Kaave. “We are not only being measured by the pilots and projects that are being tested, but also by the learnings and the knowledge that we gain throughout all these projects – often a company can use a lot of money and time on testing the wrong idea because it’s simply built up as too big [of a] complex project. For us, good results of an exploration can be the decision of not going further.”

Another key aspect of the Space10 ethos is actively living the lives they spend their working day exploring, prototyping and piloting.

But it does believe in fun

“If we are not having fun while we work, we don’t believe we will be as effective,” insists Kaave. “I mean, how would we be able to design for a sustainable life if we do not know how to live up to that ourselves?”

But for Space10 staff, like Simon, inspiration stems from “everything from the UN, to think tank reports, IKEA research reports, articles, TED talks [and] chit-chat in bars”. Kaave has a different approach.

“The best way to stay creative is [to] invite and hire people that are more creative than you are,” he says. “Make them challenge you, but also understand and let go to really make sure that every detail really gets the focus it needs.”


All photos via Space10.

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