Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design

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Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design

In its 75 years IKEA has stood out as a particularly innovative organization. Seventeen years old its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, wanted to start his own firm in Älmhult in Sweden’s Småland. The company’s name is an acronym consisting of the initials of his first and last name, Ingvar Kamprad, the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd and his hometown Agunnarud in Småland.

After his death last month, it’s important to remind ourselves of Kamprad’s way of future thinking: “As long as there is human housing on our earth, there will be a need for a strong and efficient IKEA,” he said.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
The company’s name is an acronym consisting of the initials of his first and last name, Ingvar Kamprad, the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd and his hometown Agunnarud in Småland

IKEA’s philosophy has always been to create products for the user, carefully thinking over how a product fits into an individual’s situation, familywise and financially. Functional design combined with user-friendly prices have been IKEA’s trademark. Today, vintage IKEA furniture can be worth a fortune on auctions, proving that the company’s innovation has stood the test of time.

Related: The Swedish Furniture Giant

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
Facts about IKEA (From the IKEA museum)

I have always wondered how it is to be a product designer at IKEA, so I traveled to IKEA’s hometown, Älmhult to meet one of the in-house designers, Iina Vuorivirta from Finland.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
“Good design is first and foremost a focus on how the product should work,” says Iina Vuorivirta, in-house designer at IKEA

I was curious to find out how a young designer landed a position at a huge company like IKEA, and Iina explains that it was quite accidentally. She had lived among IKEA products in Finland all her life and studied product design in Sweden, later to start her own studio in Stockholm. One day she sneaked into IKEA, which launched a new product next to her own small gallery.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
Designers at IKEA can meet in an informal atmosphere to discuss their individual projects.

There she met head of design, Marcus Engman, and she made a quick decision to apply for a position.

Related: IKEA founder returns to Sweden

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
IKEA tools

Iina tells me that she is open-minded and likes to challenge herself. She is curious and more than average interested in materials. She has been doing glassblowing and worked with ceramics.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
Ingvar Kamprad in conversation with his workers

At IKEA she is currently working on a new dish-brush, which she has been doing for two years now. When I look like a question mark, she explains that a brush lasts for approximately one year. Being concerned about the environment, the brush and the shaft should be recycled in the same process, not separately, like most dish-brushed are treated today. She is therefore searching for sustainable materials meeting these requirements.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
IKEA furniture from the 70s exhibited at the IKEA Museum

“Good design is first and foremost a focus on how the product should work. This is the stage at which many questions will arise. Doing proper design and material research will help answer those questions,” she says.

Related: IKEA Donates Millions to Ebola Fight

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
IKEA designer Iina Vuorivirta from Finland.

Travelling to suppliers is a big inspiration for Iina. It is the most exciting part of the process. Her interest for natural fibers arose when visiting Indonesia and Vietnam. She is concerned about using materials in the best possible ways – respectfully and esthetically, not focusing on a beautiful layout only.

‘Design based on facts, not assumptions’ is her mantra. She is concerned about the smaller details, the fingertip feeling.

“When this is right, I am right,” she concludes.

Today IKEA works with students, in-house designers as well as well-established designer brands.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design
Portrait of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad at the IKEA Museum in Älmhult

IKEA has today more than 400 stores worldwide. The first store opened in Älmhult in 1958. In 2012 the store was relocated. The old building has now been transformed into the IKEA Museum. The exterior of the building has to large parts been restored to its original form, following the drawings of architect Claes Knutson. The interior has been created to meet the needs of a modern museum and is well worth a visit.

Sweden’s IKEA Conquered the World with Innovation and Design, written by Tor Kjolberg

All photos: Tor Kjolberg

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