The idea of hacking IKEA products is not new, but it's still great. It's such a great idea that the flatpack furniture giant is developing an official IKEA Hack product. This is almost exactly a year after IKEA enlisted lawyers to shut down a down fan-made IKEA hack website, pissing off reasonable customers all over the world.
IKEA clearly doesn't want a good idea to go to waste. The company recently announced the plan for an official Hack kit during the second annual IKEA Democratic Design Day at its headquarters in Sweden. I was there (on IKEA's dime) to peer through the company's utopian vision for the future. By the time two young designer types presented the hack idea and a compelling furniture swapping program, everyone in the room full of jet-lagged journalists and PR teams was at least one drink deep into the evening's festivities. The buzz made the whole plan sound especially terrific.
Note: So that I could attend this year's Democractic Design Day, IKEA paid for my transportation, meals and drinks over the course of four days. The company also gave me a free poster and a free tote bag — both of which I immediately gave away.
The Hack idea is based on an interesting question. "What if you could browse a site and see hacks for all the available products?" one of the young designer types asked the crowed. "Doesn't that already exist?" I asked my neighbour. (More on that in a second.) But what if IKEA built and curated it? You could even know when you were buying a hackable product in the store.
That's it. IKEA would build a website that hosted a number of hack ideas for all hackable products. You'd pick a hack kit that worked with your furniture and buy it from IKEA. The prototype shown at the event involved the iconic Frosta stool. Thanks to the Frosta Hack kit, the stool became a chair.
The finished product looked a little bit janky. That's it to the left:
But again, this is just a program that IKEA is considering. And it would be silly for IKEA to make its hacked furniture look as polished and well designed as the highly designed pieces of furniture it sells at the store. However, IKEA hacking is something that the company knows people like.
IKEA knows that its customers are already modifying furniture they buy at the stores. In some cases, sellers on Etsy and so forth are selling custom-built parts for IKEA furniture. (I know this because I just bought some.) IKEA tried to take a swipe at this burgeoning market last year by shutting down IKEAhackers.net, however the company relented after a massive backlash from fans. Now, it appears that IKEA is taking a more aggressive grab at the market.
The company is also considering taking on Craigslist and the IKEA furniture re-sale market. They're calling it IKEA Swap. It's exactly what it sounds like. Once IKEA launches the program, it would offer a "buy back guarantee" on certain items. There would be a little Swap logo on the tag.
Then, when you move or redecorate, you take your old furniture items to an IKEA store and exchange them for points that you can use on — you guessed it — more IKEA furniture. What's extra cool about this idea, however, is that IKEA is also thinking of creating a second-hand furniture marketplace that would mean people could buy even cheaper IKEA furniture. The designer types called this a "Second Life" market, though I think something got lost in translation there.
The official IKEA Hack and IKEA Swap programs might not happen. Everything IKEA does is highly deliberate and well thought out, so if the numbers don't make sense, you can be sure that IKEA will continue its inevitably symbiotic relationship with the IKEA hacker community and leave the second-hand market alone. Unsurprisingly, IKEA didn't mention the unofficial hacking sites or the legal action in its presentation.
In the coming days, I'll be writing about a number of IKEA products that are supposed to happen in the next couple of years. Some of them are truly exciting — especially the ones that delve into the world of home electronics. Some of them are fascinating — especially the ones that turn trash into furniture. All of them are very IKEA. You'll see what I mean by that — if you stay tuned.
Pictures: Adam Clark Estes