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Ikea’s head of design steps down

Marcus Engman spearheaded Ikea’s design turnaround. Now he’s heading out.

Ikea’s head of design steps down
[Photo: Ikea]

In a surprising move, Marcus Engman, the head of design at Ikea since 2012, is leaving the world’s largest furniture company for his own design consultancy.

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Engman’s impact on Ikea cannot be overstated. While Ikea has been an icon of affordable style for decades, in recent years, the company’s approach had grown stale. Ikea had a repetitive Ikea aesthetic. Engman worked to change that.

In a call with Engman in May of this year, he acknowledged Ikea’s weaknesses as a company–pointing out that he’d been working to promote transparency, sharing its design process more with the public, and shifting to production and design that could lower Ikea’s immense environmental impact by making Ikea’s products circular, not built from virgin materials. Engman was also fond of Ikea hacks–which the company had once rallied against–because he saw the power of having third-party companies making accessories for Ikea furniture, much like Apple is only bolstered by so many iPhone case manufacturers.

[Photo: Ikea]
“If we could expand on our user base, that would mean only more people would think our products are relevant,” Engman said on the topic. Ikea would go on to “hack itself.”

But Engman’s biggest impact was likely in the artist collaborations he spearheaded at the company. These limited edition collaborations featured work from design stars like Virgil Abloh, Bea Åkerlund, and Chris Stamp. Some of the results were wild. Maximalism. Skateboards. Ikea receipt rugs. Anything but more beige-upholstered POÄNG chairs.

Engman saw these collaborations as a learning opportunity for Ikea’s own designers. He also recognized that Ikea, as a lucrative private company, could afford to experiment in a way that publicly traded giants could not.

“We have the opportunity Ikea to be a little bit more long-term in our economical thinking,” said Engman. “We could try out new crazy endeavors because we believe in them. That’s the good thing about not being on the stock market.”

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All the same, Ikea’s multi-billion dollar profit margin has been shrinking in recent years, as the company has lagged behind in online sales, as the company’s big box store model hasn’t evolved for the post-Amazon world. While Engman’s successor has yet to be announced, they will have their work cut out for them.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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