For TextilWirtschaft home / Photos: Nic Oswald
(extract) Mr Engman, there is unlikely to have been a European childhood in which one or the other item of IKEA furniture did not somehow figure...
I’m sure you’re right. Especially in Germany. And I see that as a major responsibility. Also in terms of the two billion customers that now shop at our stores every year, and whose lives we would like to change for the better with our products.
Why do these people shop at IKEA?
There are no doubt very many reasons for this. Important for us is that we always start with our customer’s needs, by which I mean both their emotional and functional needs. We have our finger on the pulse of those needs. I consider it little short of astounding to have to emphasize this fact because I would consider that to be the job of every company. And yet, looking around, I see that it really is an exception. I am not speaking of target group analyses but of very palpable connections. Ever since the creation of IKEA, we have been very interested in finding out what is on the hearts and minds of our customers, what they are doing, how they live, and what sort of problems they are facing. To help us understand them, we even visit them at their homes.
You work together a lot with top-flight designers. Have you ever reached a point at which you felt your design was too sophisticated for your customers?
Nothing could be farther removed from my mind. That would be a bit like saying what we think is good - or too good! - for our customers. On the contrary, in fact: I believe that, as a rule, we underestimate people. A key factor for us is variety. If you try to only make things that sell well, you err too much on the safe side and tend to do everything in plain vanilla. But that “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t appeal to anyone. Big brands like IKEA have to offer variety, otherwise we fail to take account of the diversity of our customers. It is presumptuous to believe that all people function in the same way. Take the stereotyped perception of New York, for example. You immediately have an image in your mind. And yet it consists of so many different boroughs and neighbourhoods which, when taken together, make up New York City. That’s just the way IKEA works. We cannot afford to concentrate on the things our customers have in common. We need to focus on their differences.
So IKEA isn’t where you go to pick something up but a place to discover yourself?
Absolutely. We do not, in any case, consider ourselves as a company that develops and sells products but as one that creates worlds you feel at home in. It is with this aim in mind that we assemble a range of products. That is a totally different approach. We sell solutions. We have our room sets and a huge amount of knowledge about how to design and furnish rooms. That means we can reach lots of people without needing an excessively large assortment. The context in which it is put can, after all, alter a product’s expression.
What, to you, is a good product?
First of all, I have to point out that we are only very rarely satisfied with anything. We often think, “Well, that’s good but we could make it so much better.“ That is part of our corporate identity and design philosophy. When developing our products, we employ the so-called “democratic design” principle. In any discussion of design quality and good products, it is often decisive where you yourself start from. Am I an engineer? A designer? Am I in charge of the business side of things? Or am I an marketing manager? If all four of these people get together, they will engage in a lively discussion on what good - or bad, come to that - actually means. Democratic design is a common form of expression we have developed. A common understanding of what constitutes a good product. Our core criteria are form, function, quality, sustainability, and price, plus availability. Our goal is to ensure we are all on the same page, all talking about the same five things, culled from the views of everyone but fused to create a perspective. This helps us achieve a result which means so much more than simply: “That looks good.“
One could almost imagine there to be a link here to the ideas of the Bauhaus back in the 1920s. Design is done not by any one individual but by the community.
That may well be. Yet how I see it is more related to the underlying idea of the Bauhaus as being that of making design mass-producible, the intention having been to improve the quality of products. Many people forget that mass production is actually a way of manufacturing good quality. Today, most seem to believe that the best way to create quality is through DIY, and that mass production is automatically inferior. If that were the case, I ask myself why we are not all rushing out to hand-build our cars. (...)