IKEA is a Swedish home furnishing and accessory brand which specializes in bringing a premium look to the modern home at extremely reasonable prices. And the secret ingredient to achieving this has been their DIY approach to furniture. The brand has been at the frontier of home design innovation and has been recognized as the world’s largest furniture brand since 2008. Each location of their brand is as massive and complex to navigate as a labyrinth. The customer travels through this maze where each piece up for sale is displayed and identifies what they want to purchase. At the end of this experience lies a warehouse where all these items can be picked up in neat flat packages and be wheeled through the checkout into the customer’s vehicle.
Staying true to its roots is a key part of IKEA’s booming success. In the Swedish town of Älmhult where IKEA opened its first ever store in 1958 now resides a sprawling headquarter which pumps out close to 2000 furniture pieces in IKEA’s annual catalogue on top of the range of 10,000 pre-existing designs part of their portfolio. But IKEA’s team is just as small as their influence is massive. These 2000 pieces are designed by a team of just 20 designers. The team’s Design Manager Marcus Engmen starts his process in people’s homes which he frequents across the globe to understand the needs of a modern household in different regions.
Affordability is a huge part of IKEA’s USP. The premium feel and design of the individual pieces means corners need to be cut elsewhere to maintain an attractive price. IKEA achieves this by eliminating in house assembly of their designs, instead choosing to go with a Flat Pack or Ready To Assemble design. A majority of IKEA products come in unique cardboard boxes which resemble flat slabs. Inside are the individual components required to construct a piece and an easy-to-use blueprint similar to a LEGO set. These flat packs make the unassembled pieces easy to ship, store in warehouses and carry home and help reduce overheads for the furniture so the IKEA team can invest more in premium materials and designs. This also means the flat packs need to have a minimal volume, as Marcus Engmen describes, “One centimetre there could maybe mean 10 euros in the end on each and every product.” This minimization of size is another aspect of design which the team takes very seriously.
IKEA has embraced the fashion industry’s front runners in a number of platforms including Fashion Shows and collaborations. In 2016, designer Martin Bergström visited India and alongside a team of 25 designers at the National Institute of Fashion and Technology- New Delhi designed a collection featuring traditional Indian techniques and natural materials. These designs featured natural monotone pallets and bold colors and were shown off by the designer at the Milan Fashion Week. Of course, mentioning IKEA collabs and leaving out Virgil Abloh’s MARKERAD collection seems sacrilegious. This collection was Virgil’s attempt at taking anonymous household items such as a rug or a coffee table and making them the centerpiece of the room by making them unabashedly noticeable.
Whether it be the rug which looks like wet grass (of course labelled “WET GRASS” in Off-White’s iconic typography) or a giant IKEA bill or a regular chair with a doorstop at one of its feet, Virgil did everything to transform the normal into the abnormal.
Wherever they can IKEA tries to minimize waste and be more efficient as a whole. The Flat Packs at IKEA used to fill empty spaces with polystyrene foams which would absorb impact and reduce damage to the contents inside. But this foam was devastating for the environment as it was non-biodegradable and IKEA consumed enough of it to fill two Empire State Buildings annually! In an effort to reduce this waste and clean up their carbon footprint, IKEA invested in researching a fibre-based alternative against both internal and external resistance. Now the use of the polystyrene has been completely eliminated from the company. IKEA also goes out of their way to package things more efficiently so as to reduce the number of crates used and hence the number of trucks, ships and planes needed to transport an item worldwide.
At IKEA there goes a saying, ‘We don’t just make things, we make things better’. And through their decades of commitment into designing and refining one of the most unique and yet palatable arrays of products and product delivery, the company personifies the never-ending process of Making Things Better.
IKEA strongly advocates the idea of “lista” or “making do”.
Ikea x Little Sun
Little Sun is a social business set by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson dedicated to bringing clean and cheap energy to the nearly billion houses worldwide which do not have access to electricity. By purchasing a solar powered device such as a charger or LED lamp you can make the same product available to someone in need. In 2018, Ikea in collaboration with little sun launched SAMMANLÄNKAD (meaning connected) a range of home accessories with inbuilt solar power and thereby simplifying the process of bringing solar energy into the modern home. The beautiful range of lamps resembles models of stars and the sun and are set to release next year.
Ikea x Adidas
Adidas and Ikea are bringing RÖRLIGHET, a collection designed to promote healthy living by making at home workouts easier especially for young women. Designers and product developers from the Furniture giant visited a variety of different homes across New York, Shanghai and London to get a grasp on what makes at home workouts tedious. Then they undertook this project with Adidas as a Joint Design Research Project which would help eliminate the need for gyms for those people who find it inaccessible. The project identified problems to tackle such as limited workout space at homes, not disturbing neighbours and other housemates and keeping workouts enjoyable. The project moved forward with a special motivation of bringing efficient, enjoyable workouts to women especially mothers with young children and teenage girls, the two groups which would drop out of workouts the most.
Ikea’s signature style has always been Do It Yourself, and yet it has rarely meant design it yourself. The Unikea project by Kenyon Yeh was a special undertaking where the designer purchased evergreen Ikea staples such as the RAST drawer and doing away with the instructions. Instead he looked at the assembly parts and moulded the parts into creations more suited to what HE needs. The motivation with doing this was that even with IKEA’s brilliantly designed pieces which can be adapted to most modern households, one can have pieces which are entirely unique. Today this collection is featured in the IKEA museum at Almhut.
What the Frakta
IKEA has many staples part of its brand ethos, one such recognizable pillar of their flavor is the FRAKTA bag. The frakta bag is known to be super-resilient, capable of carrying almost anything and being easy to wash off. The all blue, Polypropylene bag which costs only 99 cents is so recognizable that High Fashion titan Balenciaga released an inspired Tote Bag made of similar materials and in the same unforgettable blue of the FRAKTA bag. The only major difference was this bag was about 2500x more expensive than the original, sitting at a price tag of 2500 USD.
While most brands would understandably sue when their trademarks are so blatantly ripped off, IKEA had a rather good sense of humour about it. They released a mocking instagram post which helped customers differentiate between the different bags and publicly claimed to be ‘extremely flattered’ by the imitation!
Written by Aditya Chopra