Swedish manufacturer IKEA could well be one of the most influential brands in the world. With its cutting edge flat-packing model, wide range of price points, sizes and absolute stranglehold on the student market, Ingvar Kamprad’s DIY retailer now counts nearly 350 stores in over 40 countries. Accusations of price gouging, labour violations and Kamprad’s Nazi past have been overshadowed by environmentalism, charitable contributions and progressiveness (it was the first major brand to recognise the LGBT community in its American television advertising). We may resist it, but we all end up in the familiar blue and yellow store at some point. Here’s why.
How has IKEA become so intricately linked with value, variety and versatility? It works nearly everywhere in the world.
IKEA is a brand of the many. It has democratised people’s living spaces. Its identity is founded on the commitment to good design, good quality at low prices. We want to create a better everyday life at home for our customers. IKEA also believes that affordable modern design is fundamentally “democratic” and “socially and environmentally” conscious. In simple terms, this means design for everyone.
Shouldn’t good design be democratic by definition?
Good quality is based on the needs of our customers, how they use our furniture in their lives at home. Democratic design aims to suit everyone’s needs. [We] use five elements of “democratic design” — form, function, quality, sustainability and a low price while developing all the products. These values are consistent around the world. We want to give our customers home furnishing products that will make their living spaces personal and beautiful without having to spend a lot, yet maintain a quality standard.
How is it IKEA is able to carry out this democratic design but others can’t?
What makes [our] design process unique is that our suppliers play a very important role. Very early in the design phase, our product developers and designers work with a diverse team of technicians, manufacturers and specialists — often right on the factory floor. This partnership helps keep our prices low and find the latest techniques to create products the IKEA way.
Our production phase is often when innovation at IKEA comes alive. What makes it unique is our ability to work side by side with individual suppliers directly at their factories. With their help, we’re able to use the most efficient, cost-effective and creative ways to bring our designs to life.
We test all of our materials and products during the product development phase. For us, good quality is based on the needs of our customers, how they use our furniture. Our designers conduct thousands of home visits every year to learn more about people’s needs and their dreams. It helps us create a better living environment for everyone.
What is it about Scandinavian design? Do you include IKEA with the blanket “Scandinavian design” idea?
The Scandinavian design concept emphasises simplicity, neatness and functionality. These characteristics inspired us to develop the idea of smart craftsmanship behind the Stockholm series, where the products are designed with small details, with natural materials and will age beautifully as people use it every day for years and years.
How is it different from any other line IKEA has released over the decades?
The Stockholm series launched earlier but we add on new elements continuously. Our products are constantly improved to accommodate various needs of home furnishings. We aim to use this collection to showcase that we can compete with high-end furniture shops in terms of quality, design and price. Our latest series contains strong individual pieces that belong to the same family, but it can easily match with your original style.
What’s your favourite piece and why?
All the designs are like my own children, each one has a special characteristic [and] a special functionality.