That’s what home decor giant IKEA is doing. Each year, the company asks children to send in their hand-drawn creatures, and each year, thousands of submissions roll in from around the world.
It’s part of a contest called Soft Toys for Education. IKEA selects 10 designs, then brings them to life—in a manner of speaking. The company uses kids’ drawings to create an exclusive line of plush toys.
The finished products are whimsical, adorable, and interesting, and they’re sold at IKEA stores in 40 countries. But this isn’t just a way for a corporation to save a few bucks on its design bills; it’s for a great cause.
The money goes toward giving educational opportunities to kids in poor countries. Since 2003, the Soft Toys for Education campaign has earned nearly 77 million euros (about $82 million) for charity.
Kids love the opportunity to create for a cause.
“I just chose a skunk, because that was the first thing that came up in my mind,” said Olivia, a little girl from the United Kingdom. Her skunk was one of IKEA’s selections, and her eyes lit up as she saw her creation for the first time.
The Soft Toys for Education campaign is all about thinking differently.
Judges base their selections on creativity, and since the goal is to create toys that capture the imagination of childhood, IKEA’s staff looks for creatures that are truly different. “Unique expressions” win extra points. The goal isn’t to find the most technically gifted artist, but the most creative idea.
“The response has been amazing,” said Bodil Fritjofsson, a product developer at IKEA. “There are so many creators out there…the world will not lack potential future artists and designers, some of the drawings are real pieces of art.”
Recent selections include a “wannabe-scary” monster, a “punk horse,” and a blue dog with stars for eyes. There aren’t many rules—this project purposely puts children in charge—but one rule is firm: Artists are required to have fun.
If a child’s drawing has an extra arm or eye, for example, it’s replicated in the finished plush toy. In a sense, the company tries to stay out of the way, as the goal of the project is to celebrate creativity while helping a great cause.
“It’s children helping children,” said Fritjofsson.
Watch children see their drawings in the video below. For more information on the contest, visit IKEA’s website here.