IKEA, Minimalisation, and the Financial Agenda

James Cosper

I'm sorry I said IKEA sucks
I just bought a table for 60 bucks
And a chair and a lamp
And a shelf and some candles for you
I was a doubter just like you
Till I saw the American dream come true
IKEA by Jonathan Coulton

When creating my initial concept map for Minimalisation my initial questions about the Financial Agenda were:
What is fundamental?
Who else is working towards the simple instead of the complex?
Can a minimalist design be successful in the marketplace?
Can we market only the essentials?
How can we avoid feature creep?
Will customers pay more or less for a simple design?
Can we cut profit to compete but be comfortable?
How can we cut packaging and reduce shipping during distribution?
What practices can increase cost effectiveness throughout the entire life of a product--from the first stages to the time the consumer is through with it?

Minimalisation and the financial agenda intersect in the Swedish furniture company IKEA. In Good: An Introduction to Ethics in Graphic Design (Roberts, 2006) furniture designer Michael Marriott states while discussing sustainable design, "I've got this cutlery from IKEA that costs about 25£ and is beautifully simple and stainless steel--really lovely. I'm aware of it everyday I use it." Swedish design is known for combining utility, aesthetics, and affordability, a trait common to Modernism-influenced mass produced objects. IKEA creates furniture and household items that have been stripped to the essentials while striving to turn simplicity into a selling point.

IKEA's design method when creating a product is interesting and in many ways backwards: they set a price point first and then design the product. This method encourages innovation when coupled with the company's robust environmental policy, described in Is It Green?: IKEA (Jeffries, 2009). The designers at IKEA consider the entire product life while designing a piece. Furthermore, they hold their industrial partners to high standards in the cultivation and distribution of raw materials and labor practices. The cycle of responsibility thus includes not only the consumer and IKEA but the partners that may be invisible to the end user.

The focus on the lifelong footprint of the company, and thus by extension the experience of using IKEA, becomes a selling point. IKEA publishes the "Never Ending" list of ways they are working for sustainability ("Never Ending," n.d.). They answer some of the questions I had when putting the words Minimalisation and Financial Agenda together: Environmental impact is fundamental to the relationship between company and customer. They will offer simple solutions for an affordable price. They will build around a price point rather than cut usability afterwards. They will minimize waste throughout the process. When the product is no longer viable it will probably be recyclable. IKEA has the advantage of working with the economy of scale on their side. However, I believe that designers starting out can take lessons from their business model.

While starting designers do not have the economic power of IKEA they can make similar choices when developing a design. They can make conscious decisions to minimize the environmental impact of a design by developing and producing locally. Materials can be chosen for the sustainability of the product in the materials and processes. The environmental consideration can then be sold as a value-added element of the design to offset discrepancies in price. Instead of looking at minimalisation as a constraint it can be accepted as a guiding principle when ideating. Avoiding feature creep is possible when designing towards a specific purpose. The financial considerations will then be linked to the environmental in selling an experience to customers that works towards the betterment of the customer's life.

Coulton, J. (2003, Novemember 5). IKEA. On Smoking Monkey [CD]. New York: JoCo.

IKEA Systems. (2010). Never ending list. Retrieved from http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/about_ikea/our_responsibility/the_never_ending_list/index.html

Jeffries, A. (2009, January 29). Is it green?: IKEA. Retrieved from

McCarthy, T. (2008, September 4). Is IKEA eco-friendly? Retrieved from

Roberts, L. (2006). Good: An introduction to ethics in graphic design. Switzerland: Ava Publishing SA.

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