Not just ‘Swedish magic’: How Ikea figures out what furniture you’ll love

It wasn’t just some designer’s fleeting fancy that produced Ikea’s most iconic furniture pieces such as the “Lack” coffee table and the “Billy” bookshelf.It was shoe leather, and lots of it.Ikea sends about 1,000 employees each year to sleuth in homes worldwide from New York to Shanghai to find out what people need. They watch residents get ready for work, eat and entertain friends. They observe them cooking and doing laundry and ask why they store their pots and pans where they do and how they use the clothes hamper when it's not holding clothes. The researchers even spy on how people use their bathrooms.Ikea supplements the in-person visits with thousands of written questionnaires to other consumers worldwide, as many as 12,000 at a time.The information is stirred into a massive research-and-design stew — which is how someone folding clothes in London might determine the laundry hamper you buy when Ikea opens in Fishers this fall. More: When 2 Mercury astronauts tried to keep their Indy 500 entry under wraps More: Why Carmel Schools is resisting the 1:1 tech trend We’re sharing the stories that shape Carmel, Fishers, Westfield, Noblesville and beyond. Don’t miss a thing –  IndyStar North The pieces shoppers see and buy will have been put through a Scandanavian grinder, tested in the field for their practicality, versatility and, most importantly, low price."Affordability is always at the top of the list, but this research gives us an idea of what people demand and use the most," said Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth.In addition to home visits, the company produces intense, specialized behavior studies. A report on how and where mothers play with their children led to the the design of a coffee table with rounded corners. Research about how lighting Continue Reading

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, up for Time’s ‘Person of the Year,’ with Obama, Palin and more

Could the man on Interpol's most wanted list also be Time's Person of the Year? If it were up to the magazine's readers, Julian Assange, founder of the controversial whistleblower website WikiLeaks, would certainly have a shot. More than 90,000 readers have voted for the 39-year-old Australian, placing him in third place, alongside comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Strangely, leading the pack is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. And in second place is pop singer Lady Gaga. "For better or for worse, Julian Assange has changed the accessibility to knowledge of the two wars that involve the U.S., within a matter of months," Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, told Time. "He has also put journalistic integrity on a knife-blade edge: What is the responsibility of the journalist to make public or keep private?" Assange's  whereabouts are unknown since WikiLeaks' latest release of more than 250,000 top-secret U.S. documents on Sunday. Interpol has put him on their wanted list in a separate issue involving Assange, who allegedly sexually assaulted at least one woman in Sweden. He has vehemently denied the charge. The WikiLeaks founder is beating several candidates -- including news personalities, politicians, athletes and entertainers -- for the magazine's prestigious prize. On the list are Fox News' Glenn Beck (fifth place), former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (10th place), the Chilean miners (ninth  place), basketball player LeBron James (22nd place), President Obama (sixth  place) and the unemployed American (eighth  place). Time's editors will make the final decision, but if Assange wins, he won't be the first whistleblower to receive the award. In 2002, “The Whisteblowers,” made  up  of Cynthia Cooper of World Com, Sherron Watkins of Enron and Coleen Rowley of the FBI all won the prize after they blew the lid Continue Reading

Charming, but not essential: ‘Lala’s Full Court Wedding’ is not quite entertaining enough

"Lala's Full Court Wedding" airs on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on VH1 Lala Vasquez has a dilemma. She's bought her $8,000 custom-designed Vera Wang wedding dress, and now she's fallen in love with another dress, a pink dress. And her mother hates it. If you find that situation compelling enough so you just have to know its resolution, then "Lala's Full Court Wedding" is your new Sunday night date. If you don't, then you're hereby excused from watching - and unless you're a friend or relative of Lala Vazquez and her impending husband, Carmelo Anthony, you're not missing all that much. Watching someone else plan for an incredibly expensive wedding, even if that person is a former MTV veejay who's marrying a big-time NBA basketball star, feels pretty nonessential. Vasquez personally comes off as likable. She doesn't flaunt a life where money doesn't matter, even though the ability to write blank checks is an unspoken lure of every show about celebrity lives. Let's get real: The average bride doesn't order a custom-made $8,000 Vera Wang and then seriously debate whether she will even bother to wear it. Viewers may relate more closely to Vasquez's other dramas, which include mild sparring with Anthony. For instance, he wants a band at the wedding. He thinks it would be classy. She doesn't. That's not a dealbreaker, though it's mildly startling for a groom to express any opinion at all. The only wedding role for most guys is to show up on time and remember to wear socks. Vasquez's more formidable task is working with her mother, who arrives armed with a suitcase full of opinions. She and Mom are close, which is good, except it means Mom can't be automatically blown off or overridden. That means Mindy Weiss, Vasquez's celebrity wedding planner, must occasionally play referee as well as recommend, say, a baker for the red velvet cake. The future Mr. and Mrs. Anthony also spend time on several universal wedding issues, like the guest list. You can't have a Continue Reading

NBA commissioner David Stern is foolish for even entertaining idea of legalized gambling

Tim Donaghy was back in the news this past week, throwing his old refereeing friends under various busses, enlightening everyone about officiating conspiracies in the NBA, and saying just about anything he could think of to try to get people's minds off Tiger Woods and back on his windmill chasing. It hardly registered. For one thing, Donaghy alleged most of the same stuff when he crashed the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 before heading off to prison. Back then, it made big waves. But just when you thought you could turn your attention away from the rogue ref, maybe for good, here comes another rogue figure. David Stern. The NBA commissioner had a big sit-down with, during which he did the unthinkable. The Donaghy stench has hardly lifted from the NBA landscape and Stern admitted that he was open to entertaining the idea that there will come a day when there will be nationally legalized gambling on NBA games. "It's fair enough that we have moved to a point where that leap is a possibility, although that's not our current position," Stern said. Not current, but maybe in the future. That's how we read it. There you have it. The door has been opened. After Donaghy, it should have been nailed shut, for good, by Stern himself, because the entire scandal happened on his watch. Stern is known to be a visionary, but going where baseball's Bud Selig and the NFL's Roger Goodell wouldn't dare go is not what we expected from pro sports' top commissioner. Stern made a mistake, at the very least. But the more we read his comments, the more we think he entertained these thoughts with a reporter to send up a trial balloon and see what kind of reaction he'd get. Don't put it past him. If you know how Stern operates, he doesn't say stuff for public consumption just to get his name in print. There's always a motive. Stern might think that nationwide gambling one day will happen because state governments are going to have to find new ways to address Continue Reading

Prominent Bronx borough figures share their 2010 resolutions

Okay, for better or worse, THAT year is behind us, and we now look forward to the new year with faith, hope and maybe some nervous anticipation. Herewith, a wide swath of borough folks and a mix of their hopes and predictions, as well as resolutions - which we hope don't crash and burn too fast out of the gate: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. This year, I vow to work with law enforcement, community organizations and other elected officials to take illegal guns off of our streets and reach out to our youth to let them know that a gun is not the answer to their problems. I will also concentrate on improving our borough's economy, encouraging the growth of new businesses, and making sure those businesses already here will be able to stay. Dr. Ernest Patti, director of the emergency department at St. Barnabas Hospital A wish that the unnecessary and senseless violence decreases and that people stop to realize the sanctify of human life. I hope that at least from the horrors of warfare, we learn to improve our lifesaving techniques, especially for our injured police and firefighters. Deputy State Senate Majority Leader State Sen. Jeff Klein I'm glad to see new foreclosure laws based on bills I sponsored saving thousands of Bronxites and others from losing their homes. And I hope to pass bills saving seniors up to 90% on prescription drug costs, and requiring law enforcement agencies to collect DNA upon arrest for the most serious felony crimes. For my personal New Year's resolution, I'm going to expand my fitness routine to long distance running and deep sea fishing. Ed Brown, Bronx trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association A happy and healthy new year to all firefighters. And a wish for them to keep a strong mind and body to help us continue to protect all of the people of the Bronx and the city. Nurah Amat'ullah, executive director, Muslim Women's Institute for Research and Development We at MWIRD hope Continue Reading

Armani to pay Transformers star Megan Fox seven figures for endorsement deal

Confirming that endorsement deals still have cachet in a recession, "Transformers" star Megan Fox is pulling down a seven-figure payday to model Armani underwear and jeans. The 23-year-old will be the new face of Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans in 2010, the Milan-based fashion house announced Wednesday.Most endorsement deals pay celebrities from $500,000 to $2 million for an ad campaign that runs a year, and Fox will make toward the high end of the range, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. This person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.The actress' publicity team, managers and agents approached Armani several times over the years to build the relationship. She wore Armani outfits at red carpet events and met designer Giorgio Armani at an Armani Prive fashion show in Paris this year.With Victoria Beckham's contract expiring and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" ballooning past $800 million in worldwide box office, a deal finally clicked. Fox also plays a possessed cheerleader in "Jennifer's Body," which launched in theaters last month.Overall advertising spending is down, but brands continue to pay for endorsement deals with celebrities, said Carol Goll, head of global branded entertainment for International Creative Management, one of Hollywood's largest talent agencies."There's a lot of interest in celebrity spokespeople," Goll said. "We haven't seen a decline in that."The agency recently also signed major deals for clients Beyonce, with General Mills Inc., and Ellen DeGeneres with Cover Girl. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Knicks don’t figure to match Celtics’ rise to the top of Eastern Conference

It's been nothing but target practice, at about 10 paces, since Isiah Thomas brought his famous smile to town. Since his arrival three days shy of Christmas, 2003, Thomas has been a treasure trove of column fodder, always saying something that defied logic and reason, followed up by a personnel move that made no sense. Rip jobs gave way to more hatchet jobs. The supply of ammo was endless. Life was good if you carried a laptop and were assigned to write columns about the Knicks. "I never took it personal," Thomas said last night. "I know it's entertainment. Sometimes you wear the white hat and sometimes you wear the black hat. As Denzel (Washington) told me a long time ago, you're going to get the Bronx cheers." This column measures 750 words, give or take, and you could use every one of them to rip Thomas one more time, just from some of the wonderfully inane comments he made during his last pregame spiel at the Garden, before the Knicks lost their home finale, 99-93, to the Celtics. Tempting as it is, we'll pass. He's persona non grata, on the fast track to a Knicks consultant's job. If it's the same one other NBA team executives are assigned once they've been stripped of all power, he'll never be seen at the Garden again. He'll have nothing more to do with the Knicks. "It seems like I'm always fighting against the Celtics," Thomas said, remembering that when he played, the first peak he had to climb to get the Pistons to where they wanted to go was Mount Bird. "They're the team we'd like to be like." Here's the scary thing: If you believe James Dolan, the Knicks can be just like the Celtics, who have secured the greatest turnaround in NBA history after winning only 24 times last season. It's false hope, but Dolan has always been a sucker. Dolan still believes in his heart of hearts that the Knicks are only a Kevin Garnett trade away from giving New York blue skies and championship parades. He believed, and probably still believes, to some Continue Reading

Political apathy and obsession with entertainment have a price | Jones

I recently reflected on a visit to an Islamic mosque some years ago. No, I’m not a Muslim (not that there is anything wrong with that before some readers start judging). I went because the mosque’s leader extended a kind invitation. It was a remarkable experience. The venue and service were both spartan. There was no huge choir, flamboyant minister of music, hooping, shouting, speaking in tongues, fainting in the aisles or dance ministry. There was little one would expect to find at a typical gathering of black religious folk. Disturbingly, entertainment (and the socio-political anaesthetization that comes with it) have become the order of the day. In the post-modern age, people aggressively dedicate themselves more to buying the “right” clothes, purses and shoes, going to the best parties, attending the largest churches and staging the most popular social gatherings than trying to resolve our country’s troubling issues. As Rome declined, its citizenry was also numbed by hedonism, games and shallowness. Will our empire suffer the same fate as we pleasure ourselves and glorify empty celebrities, but refuse to wrestle with economic, political and cultural problems?The return of NBA basketball this week provides another example that highlights the entertainment vs. education conundrum. Years ago, PBS personality Tavis Smiley offered an annual “State of Black America” forum at different sites across the country. Smiley’s event brought some of the country’s foremost intellectuals and socio-political figures together to discuss America’s problems and possibilities. The timing and location of the 2003 gathering in Detroit created an interesting opportunity to conduct a small experiment.  More: Most black athletes are not prepared for this brawl | Ricky Jones More: Confederate monument supporters are the ones really sanitizing history | Ricky L. Jones Continue Reading

Merv Griffin, entertainer and businessman, dead at 82

Merv Griffin sits poolside at his Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2003. Merv Griffin, a big band singer who struck it rich twice as a nice-guy talk show host and the creator of "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," died yesterday of prostate cancer. He was 82. Griffin was hospitalized several weeks ago after being diagnosed with a fast-spreading recurrence of the cancer that had gone into remission in 1996. Over more than six decades in showbiz, he starred on radio, on Broadway, on record and on television as well as running a production company whose success propelled him into nine-figure investments like casinos. "My father was a visionary," Griffin's son, Tony Griffin, said yesterday. "He loved business and continued his many projects and holdings even while hospitalized." Earlier this year, Griffin announced a new TV game show based on crossword puzzles, one of his lifelong passions. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who along with the late President Ronald Reagan was a close friend of Griffin, said yesterday in a statement, "This is heartbreaking, not just for those of us who loved Merv personally, but for everyone around the world who has known Merv through his music, his television shows and his business." Pat Sajak, host of "Wheel of Fortune," called Griffin's death "the loss of a dear friend. . . . He meant so much to my life, and it's hard to imagine it without him." While much of Griffin's fortune stemmed from game show production, he was best known for hosting one of the most successful syndicated talk shows in the country between 1965 and 1986. Unlike many later talk hosts, he was not confrontational with guests and rarely expressed his own political or topical views. This approach helped him round up opposing views for shows on controversial topics like the Vietnam War and to land ordinarily elusive subjects like Richard Nixon, Bertrand Russell, the Reagans, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jerry Seinfeld, Grace Kelly, John Wayne and Prince Continue Reading

Cruise entertainment, dining options increase, diversify

A new generation of bigger, glitzier vessels has broadened cruising's appeal and – the sinking of the Costa Concordia notwithstanding – turned it into the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. Today's mega-ships now feature everything from deck-top water parks to Broadway shows to celebrity chef-run eateries – in short, everything you'll find at the biggest resorts on land, and sometimes more. How has the shipboard experience evolved, and what more is coming in the future?USA TODAY assembled four of the industry's top executives in Miami late last month for a roundtable discussion on the topic: Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International; Gerry Cahill, CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines; Kevin Sheehan, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line; and Frank Del Rio, Chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, the parent company of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises. The hour-long panel discussion was moderated by USA TODAY's Gene Sloan and Veronica Gould Stoddart.USA TODAY: Let's start with a hypothetical vacationer who hasn't been on cruise in a decade or two or three. What would they find familiar on today's ships. What would surprise them?Goldstein: They would find a very high-level service, just like before, (and) a real attention to the needs of the guests that has always distinguished our category. They would find a main dining room experience where the wait staff was extremely attuned to their needs and would come to know (them) very well, (and) they would come to know the stateroom attendants in a way that is not normal if you're staying in a hotel. True then, true now. They might see some of the elements of entertainment that they saw then, but ... the entertainment has gone several dimensions up the ladder.Del Rio: The same lifestyle changes that you've experienced ashore, you're going to find in the (cruise) product. It's more sophisticated. It's a higher quality. It's more diversity in terms of dining options, itinerary Continue Reading