Decoding Design

IDEO helps Sealy revive its mattress sales via design

IDEO helps Sealy revive its mattress sales via design

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Sales reports and consumer research show that IDEO's work for mattress-maker Sealy has woken up some of the company's brands. How did IDEO deploy design to help Sealy attract more buyers?

After a full year on the market and a redesign from innovation consultancy IDEO, the Next Generation Posturepedic mattress from Sealy has seen some impressive business results. In an earnings report, the company said its rising U.S. bedding sales were driven by the new product line’s introduction in early 2011. It was the biggest and quickest product roll out in the Sealy’s history, according to IDEO.

Some of the general concepts IDEO used for the Posturepedic mattress, which first made its debut in the 1950s, could be applied to and adapted for other products in need of a 21st century re-make.

To improve the design, IDEO interviewed consumers, retailers, and back-health experts, and then worked extensively with Sealy's R&D team in North Carolina to find innovative materials for prototypes that met comfort and ergonomic needs of mattress users, based on the latest research. IDEO's goal was to build on the Posturepedic brand's 60-year-old tradition of high performance products that were endorsed by health experts.

Their final strategy, discussed in a February 13 Fast Company post, included these ideas:

  • IDEO enhanced Posturepedic's claim that it was "the most supportive mattress on the market" by supplementing the existing support offered with added foam and tighter quilting where most people need an additional boost, based on health research: at their hips.
  • The designers added new, visible features to convey the idea of an improved mattress set. These include soft handles that wrap around the entire mattress, including their corners (versus the often hard, isolated plastic side grips that many mattresses traditionally come with), and a sticky rubber coating underneath the top mattress to better hold sheets in place.
  • Finally, the IDEO team utilized familiar, contrasting colors to attract consumers. The top mattress's color is light blue, and the bottom is white. The idea for the blue was inspired by the crisp pale hue of many men's dress shirts, and the white evokes a cloud. (The combo, in my opinion, also seems to suggest floating on air--the blue is similar to the sky as well as a businessman's button-down, after all.)

IDEO has a successful history of working with Sealy on other projects, too. The consultancy helped to revamp Sealy's Stearns and Foster brand, a luxury line of mattresses. The Stearns and Foster line saw a decline in sales in the early 2000s but then scored higher than its competitors in consumer research studies for "visual appeal" and "comfort" after IDEO remade these mattresses with details such as tailored handles. The IDEO-designed Stearns and Foster products have received the highest ratings among Sealy's offerings since the company started keeping records, according to IDEO.

With the next-generation Posturepedic also showing strong signs of successfully deploying design as a business strategy, Sealy's executives--and their customers--are no doubt sleeping easily since the ongoing collaborations with IDEO began.

(Via Co.design, Sealy.com, IDEO.com)

Image: YouTube still

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure