IKEA CatalogIKEA Catalog
IKEA Catalog
What might an IKEA Catalog from a possible future look like?
DESIGN FICTIONFACILITATIONGRAPHIC DESIGNLEARNING & DEVELOPMENTPRINT PRODUCTIONSTRATEGYVISUAL DESIGNVISUAL PRODUCTIONWORKSHOP PRODUCTPRODUCT CATALOG
An IKEA catalog from a possible future to augment futures strategies and make it tangible.
An IKEA catalog from a possible future to augment futures strategies and make it tangible.

Project Summary

What might domestic home life look like in some possible near future if our evidence of this was in the form of the iconic IKEA product catalog?

Client: IKEA, Stockholm University's Mobile Life Centre

Team: Near Future Laboratory, Mobile Life Centre

Client URL: http://www.mobilelifecentre.org/

Project Type: DESIGN FICTIONFACILITATIONGRAPHIC DESIGNLEARNING & DEVELOPMENTPRINT PRODUCTIONSTRATEGYVISUAL DESIGNVISUAL PRODUCTIONWORKSHOP

Project Semantic Tags:

Project Year: 2015

Project Duration: 4 Weeks

Published On: Nov 22, 2023, 08:10:46 PST

Updated On: May 10, 2024, 23:41:07 PDT

Written By: Julian Bleecker

The Project

We were commissioned to workshop and introduce Design Fiction as a research methodology by IKEA and Stockholm University's Mobile Life Centre. We worked with researchers in a practical hands-on workshop to make sense of the trends of the day (2015), their research areas, and possible evolutions of home life, consumer trends and needs, and related topics in the categories of domestic life, food, urban life, travel, leisure, and entertainment. We developed and refined concepts through a focussed two-day workshop. We took these concepts, continued to evolve them and finally represent them in the form of a product catalog we 'brought back' from IKEA's near future.

The Outcomes

The project served the function of providing researchers a refreshing and vital form of ideation and exploration that could be used to translate their ideas into a unique format. The IKEA Catalog has been widely referenced and referred to both academically, as well as within commercial marketing and communications contexts. It was exhibited at the Design Museum (London) in reprint and remains one of our most downloaded examples of Design Fiction at work

The IKEA Catalog as a Design Fiction represents the way Design Fiction is a heuristic approach to Imagination and Imagining possibility. It is an alternative to, or at a minimum an augmentation of the more traditional analytic techniques for ideation and innovation.

The workshop and resulting artifact resulted in a published academic paper.
Design Fiction workshop assessing categories of possible futures products from IKEA
Design Fiction workshop assessing categories of possible futures products from IKEA

See the research paper we wrote explicating the value of this approach: The IKEA Catalogue: Design Fiction in Academic and Industrial Collaborations. Or download it here.

In collaboration with the Mobile Life Center and Boris Design Studio in Stockholm we wanted to spark a conversation regarding the futures of connected things and the Internet of Things. Using our approach called Design Fiction we ran a workshop and produced an Ikea Catalog from the near future.

We did this as a way of digging into the details, discussing the known topics and raising many more unknown ones. We used the Ikea Catalog as a Design Fiction artifact for its compelling ways to represent normal, ordinary, everyday life in many parts of the world. contains the routine furnishings of a normative everyday life. The result is a container of life’s essentials and accessories which can be extrapolated from today’s normal into tomorrow’s normal.

Notations and sketches considering imaginations as to what an IKEA ‘social network’ of value exchange, recycling, upcycling.

Our Design Fiction IKEA catalog is a way to talk about a near future. It is not a specification, nor is it an aspiration or prediction. The work the catalog does — like all Design Fictions — is to encourage conversations about the kinds of near futures we’d prefer, even if that requires us to represent near futures we fear..

Design Fiction pre-brief and 101 presentation for participants.

The process of our workshop was to use Design Fiction, a practice we’ve developed at the Near Future Laboratory that combines pragmatic hands-on production of material assets — in this case, graphic design production of a print catalog — with micro-scale science, technological and social fictions contained in the product descriptions, ancillary texts, disclaimers, footnotes and annotations.

One page from the catalog implying IOT and AI integrations into a cooking/food-prep countertop.
One page from the catalog implying IOT and AI integrations into a cooking/food-prep countertop.

The Design Fiction approach requires one to follow a series of claims about the world through as deeply as possible. For example, our claims to say that the near future world we were representing would have ‘smart’ ‘connected’ technologies needed to be as thorough as possible given our 1-day schedule. We needed to propose dozens of representations of such, throw out most, iterate on the one’s we found compelling and then find a plausible, visually engaging way to represent them with all of the constraints and rules one applies to catalog production. Each proposition from each of the working groups had to ‘stand up’ to our own scrutiny. Names of things weren’t enough. Each group had to describe the artifact or service as if they were pitching a new product. This is the work that seems to be rarely done when an IoT future is trumpeted in vague, hyperbolic press releases, keynotes and ‘reports.’ A bad PowerPoint slide with some loose text about ‘a future of connected kitchens’ and $1 trillion market for IoT simply would not work.

For example, our extrapolation of an Ikea kitchen has the things you might imagine (and have been “demo‘d”) in a near future IoT world. Cooking instructions appear dynamically on countertops, complete with anecdotes meant to keep the cooking experience lively — and likely complete with subtle opportunities to make a purchase of a fancy cutting knife, or book a reservation to the country from which the recipe is derived. The micro-fictions embedded in the catalog are where our Design Fiction makes subtle suggestions about how the near future may be a bit different from today.

For example, implying new economic contexts that were an aspect of the design brief can be done in subtle ways, such as peculiar regional disclaimers, odd explanatory iconography, subscription pricing models for furniture as the ‘new normal’ — in our near future, an Ikea kitchen is ‘self-subscribing’, a peculiar, eyebrow-raising neologism meant to suggest a new weird context of exchange dreamed-up by some near future product people in which our near future selves are comfortable with smart technologies that somehow know what’s best for us.

In the end, our Design Fiction Ikea catalog is a way to talk about a near future. It is not a specification, nor is it an aspiration or prediction. The work the catalog does — like all Design Fictions — is to encourage conversations about the kinds of near futures we’d prefer, even if that requires us to represent near futures we fear.

While we’re fans of the ‘catalog’ as a Design Fiction Archetype (cf TBD Catalog), we’ve also done Quick-Start Guides, Newspaper Supplements, Reports on Modern Life & Rituals, Magazines from Possible Futures for clients, all as ways to make strategy tangible, bring inspiration and imagination to teams, and enter into valuable discussions about your possible futures.

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