On my way to an Ikea exhibit in Stockholm last month, I took a plane, train, taxi, subway, and ferry to the art museum. Once there, I was impressed by how both experiences underlined the Swedish approach to design, and what we can learn from them.
First the Ikea part. It started with a young entrepreneur who tried to sell cheap furniture through the mail. Since it was difficult and expensive to ship, he figured customers might be willing to assemble it themselves to save money. When existing furniture manufacturers boycotted him for undercutting their business model, he had to design his own, and he decided that his customers deserved good design as much as wealthy people did. Hence the strategy of Design for All that has driven the company to international success.
That same strategy applies to transportation in Sweden. The airport is a dream, with easy security, uncrowded gates, polished wooden floors, walls of etched glass, even luggage carts that look like sculpture. The train and subway stations are easy to navigate, clean, cheerful and efficient. The ferry is a pleasure. Everything is designed to make getting around a large city built on 14 islands easier than getting through two suburbs in L.A.
While the latest trend is to talk about being customer-centric, most of our public and private efforts fall woefully short of that ideal. Because we focus on the short-sighted decisions that make shareholders happy, we don’t reap the long-term benefits of creating a better world, with better products and services for everyone. Perhaps we too should think about Design for All.