Surprised by Inspiration from IKEA

Inspiration can strike in the most unexpected places—even a Swedish furniture store. As my coworker and fellow blogger Gwen would tell you, IKEA is one of the best places for instructional designers (ID) to find inspiration. I’ll admit that I didn’t believe her at first. However, when we visited IKEA last year as a team-building exercise, I was surprised by the inspiration that sparked my creativity and motivated me to be a better ID. Many of the ideas I found that day have stayed with me and helped me improve the ways I work with programs, subject matter experts (SME), and stakeholders to design online, blended, and face-to-face courses.

Design for Everyone

Designing for everyone (also known as inclusive design) may seem like a given, but many institutions and universities still design tutorials and courses in ways that are not accessible and do not adhere to universal design for learning (UDL) principles. Educator, author, and founder of Amanda Morin observes that when courses are designed with accessibility and UDL principles in mind they include:

  • Representation– The curriculum is presented in multiple ways.
  • Action and Expression– Students are provided with different options for how they can complete assignments.
  • Engagement– SMEs and IDs strive to ensure that students are motivated throughout the course.

If you want to dive into universal design for learning, Tara shared some ways to use UDL in face-to-face, online, blended, and mLearning environments.

As our team delved into making our courses more accessible and UDL friendly over the past several years, a quote that’s often repeated is “Necessary for some. Helpful for all.” This is what design for everyone is all about.

Fix the Details

While it’s important to look at the overall big picture, I spend about 80% of my day fixing the details in my courses, whether it’s starting from scratch with a brand-new course, redeveloping a course, or putting out fires that seem to appear out of nowhere. Instructional design is about the nitty gritty details, as well as clear communication and collaboration about those details between everyone involved in the project. While details can sometimes be a nuisance, an exceptional ID makes sure those details not only match what the stakeholders had in mind, but also ensures the course is put together in a way students can easily navigate and benefit from without being confused or frustrated.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Organize It

You may be asking, “Isn’t this the opposite of what you just said in the Fix the Details section?” While it may seem opposed to my previous piece of inspiration, for me, this quote applies more to workload. ID’s queues fill up faster than we like to admit. Sometimes we look at the list of things we have to do and we wonder how we’re going to get any of it done. Rather than sweating bullets, it’s helpful to take a step back and organize our priorities. After I get to my desk and sort through my emails, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Is there anything urgent that came up in my emails that I need to address immediately? If yes, work on that first.
  • If there are no raging fires that need to be put out, which of my projects has the most pressing deadline?
  • If I have a rare moment where I’m at a stall on projects, waiting for stakeholders to get back to me, what long-term, course maintenance projects can I work on?

Organizing my projects based on these priorities and questions helps me stay more organized and manage my time even when my project queue seems like it’s as long as a red carpet.

Because Sometimes You Need to Sleep on It

I’m organized to the point that I enjoy completing tasks, crossing things off lists, and erasing things off white boards. However, there are some days here in eLearning where it feels like I’ve hit a wall. I’ve tried every possible idea and it seems like none of them are the best one that will solve my problem or be the most effective design choice.

While it’s hard, sometimes the best decision is to take a step back from a project and “sleep on it” if you will. By taking a break to work on other projects, get some air outside, or even bounce ideas off someone else, you can gain fresh ideas and perspective that will help you approach the project in a new way. While this lesson has been difficult for me to learn, I’ve discovered that stepping away from projects has been the most beneficial thing to help me find new inspiration so I can complete them in a creative way that benefits everyone involved.

Inspiration can come from a lot of different places. The key is to keep your eyes open. Which IKEA inspiration stood out most to you? When were you surprised by inspiration that helped you in your instructional design or teaching? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!


Morin, Amanda. “Universal Design for Learning (UDL): What You Need to Know.” Understood,

Author: Ann Broda, Instructional Designer

Ann is pursuing her PhD in Communication through Regent University and also teaches speech online at Olivet Nazarene University. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, participating in theatre, drinking coffee, biking, traveling, and reading.

3 thoughts on “Surprised by Inspiration from IKEA”

  1. The way that this post just hit me like a ton of bricks…in a good way. A brick ton of “ah-ha” moments. I’ve been in corporate training and curriculum design since 2008 and for it never occurred to me that IKEA would be such a mother-lode of inspiration for creating content for my new hire trainees, seasoned employees needing refresher courses or just “Gap Training” for something new that has been recently implemented. The wealth of information that can be sourced from not only IKEA, but other places, is virtually immeasurable. Working in the high school realm for the past few years has also sparked some ideas for content that relates to my students and the teachers as well. Finding things that they can relate to and enjoy and incorporating it seamlessly into the curriculum is a challenge that I’m faced with often but it usually comes to me at the time when I’m not even thinking about it. A song lyric, a poem or even a television show.

    1. Hi Riyoshi! I’m glad my post was able to provide you with new “ah-ha” moments! As I mentioned in my post, I was skeptical about finding Instructional Design inspiration outside of higher academia. But, as you said, I’m quickly discovering that Instructional Design can come from anywhere and, often, in the most unexpected times and places. We just have to keep our eyes open and figure out ways to creatively and effectively incorporate our inspiration into our courses and curriculum. Best of luck!

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