Of all design trends in the past decade, the one that blindsided me the most was the modern gaming aesthetic. Amid Apple’s push for minimalism, a maximalist counterculture of hulking tower PCs, rainbow LED lights, oversized headsets, and chairs built from race-car seats arose on streaming channels like Twitch.
While the look is not traditionally tasteful, furniture companies can simply no longer ignore it. First we saw the classic American furniture company Herman Miller release a gaming chair with the PC peripheral company Logitech, which sold out immediately. And now, Ikea—the largest furniture company in the world—is taking its first big swing in gaming.
Ikea’s new gaming line, launching this October worldwide, was created in part with Republic of Gamers, a subsidiary of the PC manufacturer Asus, and it includes more than 30 new products ranging from gaming chairs and desks, to storage solutions for controllers and figurines, to neck pillows that support you during long play sessions.
It would be tempting to dismiss this initiative as one of Ikea’s many limited experiments. It’s not. Ikea recognizes gamers as a 2.5 billion-person market worldwide (fueling the $159 billion game industry), so it spent two years delving into gaming culture to understand the space. Its employees visited major e-sports events and studied gamers in their homes. “There’s a lot to explore in the gaming universe, and this is the first step to something even bigger,” says Luis Porém Pires, range design leader at Ikea.
The main challenge was not how to build gamer-approved furniture, but how to build gamer-approved furniture as Ikea, a company known for its no-nonsense design sensibility.
“We had to understand which types of aesthetics could speak to a gamer’s heart,” says Ewa Rychert, who was business leader for workspaces at Ikea while this collection was in development. “It was an interesting exercise. We come from a completely different background from an aesthetic point of view. What is the middle space . . . between our Scandinavian roots and gaming?”
Case in point is how Ikea approached its gaming chairs. Race car-style seats have become the standard in the gaming world, but ergonomically, a chair that hugs your body around turns should be designed differently than a chair that needs to support your back for hours in front of a monitor. (These racing chairs are also, ahem, garish.) “Many gamers told us they don’t like the car-looking chairs, but they don’t have any other alternatives,” says Rychert. “That was an opportunity.”
Ikea responded with not one, but four different styles of chair, each available in various permutations of finish and color. Its $289 GRUPPSPEL chair is an overt nod to automotive chair design—complete with a racing stripe right down the middle—but as Pires explains, the shape is inspired by the seats in classic automobiles, rather than race cars.
A more direct design insight, which Ikea gathered through consumer research, was that, well, gamers have a lot of stuff. There’s gear like controllers, wires, and mics, but also collectibles like Funko Pops and other figurines. What’s different about gamers than, say, Marie Kondo, is that gamers are proud of owning all this stuff. So “displaying was also important,” says Pires.
Ikea responded with overt storage. It developed a $20 pegboard, with various clip-in belts, to hold controllers in plain sight, and a $100 glass door cabinet for figurines.
Finally, Ikea designed all sorts of small gadgets and creature comforts (like clip-on mugs) as part of the collection. One of its strangest products ever falls into this bucket. The $25 LÅNESPELARE is “a cushion, blanket, and onesie—all in one,” according to the press release. It’s basically a hoodie taken to the ultimate extreme. And as odd as the product is on its own, it also seems to fit within the broader world Ikea has built, offering a cozy object to snuggle with amid hours of competitive play.
Don’t be surprised if Ikea uses its gaming line to keep pushing into experimental, new products. “We want to explore, innovate, and break through into gaming with something never seen,” says Rychert, teasing future releases. “That takes time, of course.”