Our project explores how speculation into the 'before' of our sleep journeys opens up design opportunities, as well as ways into using language as a design tool.
Beatrice Mandelstam
Jess Stein
Future sleep offerings
Since 2016, IKEA has led research into current and future sleep value spaces. There has been an uptick in sleep solutions to meet emerging lifestyle trends and changing consumer demand, and we have a better understanding of the links between sleep and wellness. IKEA is interested in how to expand its traditional sleep offering in an evolving sleep market. Through our collaboration, IKEA shared their research with us, but we were otherwise given the freedom to define our own research questions.
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Opening up the journey suggested that the 'before' is undesigned
While sleep is cross-cutting, our market review showed a persistent focus on the bedroom within sleep design, and there has been recent growth in consumer use of sleep aids before bed. We wanted to avoid the bedroom trap. Given the constraints of lockdown, we opted to use Zoom home walkthroughs to explore sleep journeys beyond the bedroom, gathering 20+ hours of footage. This research indicated that: - Sleep journeys start earlier than you think i.e. We typically point to dinner as the start of our journey - We overlook the micro-decisions that get us to bed i.e. We list what we do (e.g. brush our teeth), but not how we get from A to B - The challenge is ‘getting up the stairs’ i.e. There’s friction when you move between spaces or modes of behaviour These insights suggested opportunities for sleep design that fall outside of the traditional journey.

Developing new constraints for the ‘before’: Rey

We became interested in changing the rules around sleep journeys, taking inspiration from conversations with shift and night workers (e.g. DJs, restaurant managers, nurses, police officers). They hack the clock to make it work for them—we saw them as sleep designers. Following from this, we developed a speculative concept around the scientific re-discovery of a 'before sleep' phase known as Rey. Based on the scenario, we developed a new speculative homeware range for IKEA. The catalogue was a way of bringing tangibility to our user insights, as well as an exploration of how we might design outside of the current parameters of sleep design.

Language as a design lever

Rey was our way of thinking through the ‘before’ as undesigned and how talking about sleep differently shapes what is made. Research shows that language acts as a primer—when you have a word for something, you are more likely to perceive that thing, and in turn, you’re more likely to design for that thing. We see this reflected in how different cultures talk about time, night, and sleep, and the links to associated social constructs and designs. If I say to you, “How did you sleep?”, you might say “well”, “not well”, or perhaps “badly”. If I say to you, “How did you ‘before sleep’”—nothing. Our project suggests that there are opportunities for design within the 'before’, but we lack a lexicon from which to design. Rey showed us the value in creating a container term—just as ‘Hygge’ gave legibility to a set of experiences within the home.
Design briefs for the ‘before’
We developed a set of tools to prototype using language as part of the design process. We were interested in how to engage designers with extended sleep journeys, as well as how frameworks from semiotics, or depictions of sleep within literature and history, might encourage expansiveness within sleep design. Then, we developed a set of design briefs focused on expanded sleep journeys, which we shared with product designers, set designers, and textile artists. From the responses, we have created the beginnings of a product catalogue for the ‘before’.
Final thoughts
- Speculation freed us to rapidly create and respond to fresh considerations. And in their responses, designers also raised new ideas e.g. in the response below (1), a textile designer expressed interest in sleep aesthetics, and proposed redesigning a sleep aid that teaches us to fall asleep naturally by synchronising our breath to a light pulse. - Through our project, we were interested in exploring how we could use tangibility to express what we heard in our user research e.g. we developed an early prototype for a GPS watch (2), in response to hearing a user’s anxiety about falling asleep during their commute and missing their stop. - In developing our speculation, we felt a pressure to create something futuristic. However what was most generative was looking backwards, at alternative sleep patterns throughout history, as a way into establishing potential constraints.
special thanks
Special thanks to Neil Gridley, Jack Mamaa, Yasu Kusume & IKEA of Sweden, and Clive Grinyer
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