IKEA's Marcus Engman talks openness and play in design for our homes

At the inaugural Design Commons gathering, we got Marcus Engman’s take on new approaches to building living spaces.

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The head of design at IKEA, Marcus Engman, sat down with us at the first Design Commons to discuss how to make better cities possible from his perspective as a leading figure in Scandinavian design.

Design Commons is a travelling platform where activists, makers and shapers gather to share their experiences, knowledge and ideas on tackling challenges, and improving the quality of life, in cities around the world.

The inagural one, inspired and curated by Design Indaba, took place in September as part of Helsinki Design Week. Engman was joined by leading designers and architects including Studio Swine, Sir David Adjaye, Winy Maas and Tiffany Chu.

Engman reflects on the turn Swedish architecture took during the 1970s to accommodate a lifestyle element that had been ignored before – space for kids to play.

A greater regard for the needs and behaviour of children had a major impact on the way architects considered the layout of rooms and it demolished the concept that one space would be designated with only one activity. By saving space in this way, one room at a time, Sweden has benefitted from the greater effect of saving on infrastructure and real estate needed to support a small family.

“We rethought how homes could be a more open space for kids,” said Engman, “And one of the topics that we think is interesting within IKEA is the shared density of our cities. It’s about the reality that everyone will live in smaller spaces. It will redefine the home of the future.”

Engman says designers are thinking about ways to make our living spaces far more versatile, designing objects that can be reconfigured to change the nature of the room easily at no extra cost of space. Engman predicts the popularity of furniture that can interlock and shift in different ways to adjust according to the needs of the resident.

He introduced the idea of interdependency and calls into question the average citizen’s reliance on city infrastructure as a design starting point for products in the home. He proffered that furniture of the future could take a similar slant in being dependent of one another for better living in the same way that society relies on public infrastructure to proliferate.

While Scandinavian design leads the way in some aspects, Engman has identified an unhealthy attitude of style over substance in many products from this region. He urged creative people and engineers to consider the behaviour of people as the starting point of the design process and not worry about the aesthetics of a product until it has addressed that question well.

“It’s not about making machinery to suit every desire, but rather having fewer items that would work with more things in the home. For us at IKEA, it’s really important to be inclusive. Why would you have great ideas that do not reach the many? They should happen to people all over the world, not just the few.”