We built Circle: a digital design solution enabling small businesses to design, experience and explore their tailored spaces in mixed reality, accessing the IKEA business range through a circular rental model.
What we did
- Market insights and business strategy
- Product design and user testing
- Front and backend development
- Machine learning data training
- 3D environment design
- Art direction for film and photography
To support IKEA’s goal of achieving 100% circularity by 2030, SPACE10 asked us to help develop a subscription-based rental service for office furnishings — translating the SaaS concept into the modern-day workplace, beyond the digital realm.
We used machine learning to create an algorithmic interior designer trained to understand people’s needs and physical spaces, and to generate tailored furnishing solutions using the IKEA business range. Leveraging computer vision, we also designed natural interfaces that allow users to shuffle room layouts or swap sets of furniture. By subscribing, Circle can predict when products need to be repaired, prolonging their durability and ensuring that every piece can be reused, refurbished and recycled.
We also helped onboard pilot users to test and validate the concept, before wrapping up our insights and learnings into a strategy deck that IKEA used to make its investment decision.
Defining the future of the workplace
In the strategy deck we compiled, we introduced the context of Circle by outlining how it relates to today’s changing world. We defined the rationale behind the venture, including the business case and environmental challenges that IKEA is contending with, as well as the novel cultural and technological shifts taking place in the workplace. We also explained what Circle does, how it works, and why we think it could be a first step towards building a more sustainable IKEA, followed by a detailed roadmap for how to get there.
With a new generation of workers forcing us to re-evaluate long-standing practices, the workplace is no longer just an office, but an ever-changing place in which to create, meet, eat, share and play. We know that a better workplace creates a better everyday life, so instead of thinking about how to sell one-size-fits-all products to the many, we wanted to think about how these products fit people’s needs at scale, and how this movement intersects with three major challenges: unsustainable consumption, resource scarcity and climate change.
Building a machine learning interior designer
To begin, we mapped the customer journey from end to end, creating simple wireframes and prototypes to quickly test ideas and agree on features. Potential subscribers start by uploading a floor plan or by selecting a pre-defined template based on their team size, budget and preferred style. A tailored design is then generated for their workplace, and a few design choices are highlighted, adding a human touch to an otherwise automated process. From here, users can explore their workspace in virtual reality together with their colleagues in the same space, moving through each room, rearranging furniture or selecting specific pieces to change the colour, material or model.
The machine learning interior designer was based on three proofs of concept developed by BB, together forming an intelligence capability that structures, understands and scales various networks of knowledge and insights that IKEA has gathered over the past 75 years. Within Circle, this allowed us to translate static floor plans into dynamic, detailed and personalised design experiences in real time, to be viewed in mixed reality.
We also designed natural interfaces that people can interact with on their own terms, by integrating computer vision, and worked with an external partner, Santi Zoraidez, to create realistic 3D renders of office spaces that users can play around with.
In the final phase, once a customer subscribes, Circle again uses machine learning to detect usage patterns and optimise the lifecycle of products and places. By predicting maintenance issues and upgrading when necessary, pieces are kept in better shape for a longer period, helping us work towards a more circular future for the furnishings industry.
Scaling up Circle
Apart from the product itself, we also produced photography, CGI and a short film to frame the project, while making explorations on a visual identity. For the latter, we aimed to explore various evolutions of the IKEA design language and wanted to find out how Circle could exist as a brand that’s insulated but not isolated from IKEA.
Working with the photographer Osma Harvilahti, we created a set of images to support key concepts and the major shifts we referred to in the strategy deck; for the film, we directed and shared our vision in terms of approach and aesthetics, defining the tone of voice, selecting the cast and curating technology props. We also created UI animations for use in the video.
Finally, we worked with Hantverk to design a physical space — a modular planning location — that could be placed within IKEA or at a pop-up location in different cities. Here, within different spaces, potential subscribers can design their new workplace, see materials, learn more about IKEA, use headsets to experience their workplace in VR and talk directly with customer service.
In the end, Circle’s strength and vision were quickly identified, and what began as a speculative idea is now its own stand-alone business venture attracting major funding and recognised as one of the most innovative green projects of 2023 by the Danish newspaper Børsen. At BB, the team worked on design and development simultaneously, rapidly iterating on and merging all aspects of the product while creating this ambitious platform.
- Python, Scikit Learn, PyTorch
- Gatsby / NextJS
- Astin Le Clercq (store interior concept)
- Santi Zoraidez (CG)
- Gabrian van Houdt (real-time 3D)
- Osma Harvilahti (photography)
- Olle Engström (UI animations)