Ikea Design One
IKEA is a Swedish furniture company that has led a revolution in the design of the home. IKEA is the world’s largest furniture retailer, with 313 stores in 38 countries (as of October 2010). Whether we like it or not, IKEA has transformed taste in interior design. It has been argued that one in 10 Europeans was conceived in an IKEA bed, which is a bizarre statistic but very revealing.
The promise offered by IKEA is that its brand of Scandinavian Modernist design and Swedish orderliness can transform the home, and give us simpler, calmer, more ordered lives. It can be argued that in some ways IKEA has fulfilled the principles of the Bauhaus, the radical German design school of the 1920s that pioneered Modernist design. IKEA offers intelligently-designed furniture that is cheap enough to be democratically available. It has introduced a new generation of consumers to modern design, and made the aesthetics of the home a topic of debate. However, it can also be argued that the IKEA style is bland and homogenous, and that is has suppressed our individuality as it has swept through our homes.
IKEA was founded in 1943 by a 17-year-old called Ingvar Kamprad. The name is an acronym comprising the initials of the founder’s name (Ingvar Kamprad), the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd), and his home parish (Agunnaryd in Småland).
The first IKEA store was opened in Älmhult, Småland in 1958. The company spread through Scandinavia first, then to the wider world. Significantly, the first IKEA store in Britain did not open until 1987. Britain has always had a complex relationship with modern design, and IKEA’s brand of Swedish Modernism was not immediately compatible with mainstream British tastes.
What aspects of IKEA are innovative? First of all, the stores themselves employ distinctive design and display techniques. The vast majority of IKEA stores are located outside of city centres to reduce land costs and improve traffic access. This is comparable with that other post-war environment of mass consumption, the shopping mall. IKEA stores are vast, slab-like buildings in blue and yellow, the colours of the Swedish flag. This is a powerful assertion of corporate identity, but it is also linked to Sweden’s national identity. There is no attempt to fit into the locality or incorporate local design influences. The power of IKEA’s brand lies in its total refusal to compromise. Even the products have Swedish names. Swedishness is a fundamental part of the company’s identity because it uses the concept of an enlightened Swedish lifestyle to sell its products.
The stores’ internal layout is distinctive. They’re designed with a one-way meandering path that forces the consumer to see the store in its entirety, as opposed to a traditional retail store, where the consumer can go directly to the relevant section. This layout ensures product exposure – it forces you to see everything, thereby encouraging you to buy things you weren’t looking for. This is facilitated by the absurdly low price of small items.