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Inside the flat-pack town

Tiny, nondescript Älmhult is where it all began for Ikea. We go on a very unusual tour, starting at the Ikea Hotel

Text by Hans Seeberg

The designer

Sarah Fager is one of Ikea’s 11 full-time designers – she designs everything from pens to beds. She says the design process usually starts two years before a product hits the shelves. “When I get a design brief it specifies what the product should be, the price, the suggested materials to use, where it will be produced and how many we are planning to sell,” she states, adding that senior “style groups” mean the look of the range has already been largely pre-set.

Starting with sketching, the process soon moves to 3D computer design, before Fager is able to call upon the Pattern Shop, where carpenters, metal workers and 3D printers are on-hand to make prototypes that will eventually be sent to the TestLab.

 As for the accusations that the designs are a bit dull, she says: “A lot of designers and design schools don’t really like Ikea because they don’t think the artistic level is high enough, but Ikea is more about the mass market. We listen carefully to our customers and design what people want.”

Fager usually starts a design two years before the product hits the shelves, but she has to work within strict time frames. “The frames are so tight, so sometimes when you first get the assignment you think, ‘I’m never going to do something good!’ But then you get into it. Sometimes you have to go for a walk to clear your head.” Starting with sketching, the process soon moves to 3D computer design, before Fager is able to call upon the Pattern Shop, where carpenters, metal workers and 3D printers are on-hand to make prototypes that will eventually be sent to Mattias Andersson’s punishment facility.

Has Fager ever been standing in a store and overheard people berating a product she’s designed? “Oh yes – lots of times!” she laughs, “Although I’ve never walked up to a person and said, ‘I designed this, so please be kind!’ It’s actually really important to hear those things. People come up with really good ideas, and are very insightful with things that they find annoying. I listen very carefully. It helps me.”

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