A room-sized sphere made of live plants. A toy village built out of wood and solar panels. A crowdsourced hydroponic pop-up salad bar.
The collaborative projects coming out of SPACE10, an IKEA research and design lab, might seem far-fetched, even for an innovation hub. For SPACE10’s Lead Creative Producer Mikkel Christopher, that’s the point.
Christopher recently spoke at MIT about the ways SPACE10 isn’t a typical innovation lab, and how that drives outside-the-box thinking for the world’s largest furniture retailer.
SPACE10 is not a secret lab
SPACE10 opened in 2015, in a former fish factory in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District.
At the time, Christopher said, the emphasis was on opening the space to the surrounding community, where people could come and share their thoughts and ideas with the designers.
The result is a SPACE10 gallery for exhibiting in-house and external projects the designers find inspiring, as well as a stage area for speaking events.
“It's really for us to underline that we are in ways not a secret lab, not a secret innovation lab working on some kind of plans that no one can hear about,” Christopher said. “It's way more about saying if we are to actually solve some of these things, there needs to be way more people in on it.”
One example is the Growroom, a spherical structure initially designed with the idea of using architecture as a local food producer. SPACE10 made the design files open source, and since then Growrooms have popped up around the world with their own unique spins, Christopher said, including ones used as prayer rooms, and rooms with solar panels and irrigation systems built in.
SPACE10 is not afraid of change
If there’s one constant in the world, Christopher said, it’s that the world is changing very quickly. And SPACE10 has to be able to change with it.
“We really believe that we're not set up to last, but to evolve,” Christopher said.
No longer do customers have to brave the monolithic blue and yellow stores to consider furniture for their homes. With the help of SPACE10, IKEA introduced IKEA Place, a mobile app that offers true-to-scale augmented reality models for people designing their living rooms, and much more.
In another project, SolarVille, the designers at SPACE10 built a 1:50 scale village made of wooden blocks, as an exercise in how a community might use two fast-growing technologies to power itself. Some of the wood-block buildings and homes have solar panels (powered by a nearby lamp) while those that don’t can purchase their neighbor’s excess power through blockchain technology.
“It's impossible to predict the future, and the future keeps changing, so instead of saying we need to figure out where to go ... [it’s] more just getting inspired all the time, having an open mind, and really being not afraid of changing direction if it's needed and not just betting on one thing and that is the one thing to go with,” Christopher said.
SPACE10 is not hiring the smartest people in the room
According to Christopher, SPACE10 has a saying: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
“That really speaks to the fact that we really want to make sure that we are always surrounded by people smarter than us,” Christopher said. “That way we make more things, rather than having to be the experts in every single field we work in.”
That includes treating customers as experts and involving them in the innovation process. Spinning off from its Growrooms, SPACE10 opened Lokal, a pop-up hydroponic salad bar in London. The lab’s chef-in residence developed the recipes and experimented with flavors, and then people were invited to come learn about hydroponic farming, try the meals, and give feedback on what they did and didn’t like.
“It’s really about saying the sooner we can get things out there, the sooner people can interact with us, the sooner we can get experts that could tell us if we're wrong, if we're right, if they want to engage with us, or if they think we are completely in the wrong,” Christopher said.