IKEA : Integrated Information Achitecture

December 20, 2008

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IKEA is a privately-held, international home products retailer that sells flat pack furniture, accessories, bathrooms and kitchens at retail stores around the world. The company, which pioneered flat-pack design furniture at affordable prices, is now the world’s largest furniture manufacturer.

The company distributes its products through its retail outlets. The chain has 293 stores in 36 countries, most of them in Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia and Australia. 2006 saw the opening of 16 new stores. A total of at least 30 openings or relocations are planned for 2008. IKEA is one of the few store chains to have locations both in Israel and in other Middle Eastern nations.

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IKEA was founded in Älmhult, Sweden, in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, when he was 17. The acronym IKEA is incidentally similar to the Greek word οικία [oikia] (home) and to the Finnish word oikea (true, correct, right), but was originally an abbreviation for “Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd” which is the initial letters of his first and last name, the farm where he grew up and the town he lived in.

Originally, IKEA sold pens, wallets, picture frames, table runners, watches, jewelry and nylon stockings or practically anything Kamprad found a need for that he could fill with a product at a reduced price. Furniture was first added to the IKEA product range in 1948 and, in 1955, IKEA began to design its own furniture. The company motto is: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”

At first, Kamprad sold his goods out of his home and by mail order, but eventually a store was opened in the nearby town of Älmhult. It was also the location for the first IKEA “warehouse” store which came to serve as a model for IKEA establishments elsewhere. On 23 March 1963, the first store outside Sweden was opened in Asker, a Norwegian municipality outside Oslo.

The first IKEA store was opened in Sweden in 1958. The first stores outside Sweden were opened in Norway (1963) and Denmark (1969). The 1970s saw the spread of stores to other parts of Europe, with the first store outside Scandinavia opening in Switzerland (1973), followed by Germany (1974). During the same decade, stores were opened in other parts of the world, including Japan (1974), Australia and Hong Kong (1975), Canada (1976) and Singapore (1978). Germany, with 43 stores, is IKEA’s biggest market, followed by the United States, with 34. IKEA now has 293 stores in 36 countries. However, the company has thus far not shown much of a presence in the developing countries.

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*World Map showing locations of IKEA stores in 2007. Green represents countries with stores in operation and blue shows proposed locations.

Product

Furniture

IKEA furniture is well known for its modern, utilitarian design. Much of IKEA’s furniture is designed to be assembled by the consumer rather than being sold pre-assembled. IKEA claims this permits them to reduce costs and use of packaging by not shipping air; the volume of a bookcase, for example, is considerably less if it is shipped unassembled rather than assembled. This is also a practical point for many of the chain’s European customers, where public transport is commonly used; the flat-pack distribution methods allow for easier transport via public transport from the store to a customer’s home for assembly.

IKEA contends that it has been a pioneering force in sustainable approaches to mass consumer culture. Kamprad refers to the concept as “democratic design,” meaning that the company applies an integrated approach to manufacturing and design (see also environmental design). In response to the explosion of human population and material expectations in the 20th and 21st century, the company implements economies of scale, capturing material streams and creating manufacturing processes that hold costs and resource use down, such as the extensive use of particle board. The intended result is flexible, adaptable home furnishings, scalable both to smaller homes and dwellings as well as large houses.

Houses

IKEA has also expanded their product base to include flat-pack houses, in an effort to cut prices involved in a first-time buyer’s home. The product, named BoKlok was launched in Sweden in 1996 in a joint venture with Skanska. Now working in the Nordic countries and in UK, sites confirmed in England include London, Manchester, Leeds, Gateshead and Liverpool.

Family Mobile

On 8 August 2008, IKEA UK launched Family Mobile – a virtual mobile phone network which uses the T-mobile network.

Family Mobile is available to all UK IKEA Family members and offers UK calls for 9p per min and UK text messages for 6p each, with a minimum initial top up of £10. According to IKEA this made the network the cheapest pay as you go operator in the UK at time of launch – “at least 25 per cent cheaper than any other comparable prepay offer.” The service targets families and allows customers a number of SIM cards per account, so credit is shared among the different lines. Customers can order a free SIM at the Family Mobile website familymobile.co.uk.

As part of the launch for the service all 9500 UK employees were given a free mobile phone along with a free Family Mobile SIM card with £5 credit pre-loaded on 5 August 2008.

Manufacturing

Although IKEA household products and furniture are designed in Sweden, they are largely manufactured in developing countries to keep down costs. With suppliers in 50 countries, roughly 2/3 of purchasing is from Europe with about 1/3 from Asia. A small amount of products are produced in North America. Comparatively little production actually takes place in Sweden, though it still remains the fourth-largest supplier country (behind China, Poland and Italy). China accounts for about 2.5 times as much supply as Sweden. For most of its products, the final assembly is performed by the end-user (consumer).[Source : www.wikipedia.org]

Integrated Information Achitecture

Ikea’s actual approach to information is managed in different ways, according to the context: either the products’ catalogue, the website or the retail stores.

They begin by choosing their products at home on the website or on the paper catalogue, then they collect their products at the store, and the final step would be to assemble the items by themselves.

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For this reason it is even more important to create bridge experiences, which facilitate the passage from one domain to another.

– The Catalogue

The annual products’ catalogue is built on a hierarchic-enumerating classification: 15 classes highlighted by different colours and relative subclasses.

Characteristics:

Use of several division’s criteria.
Interference of different categories causing products’ repetitions displays.
No hierarchical relation of some subclasses with related classes (for example Flooring is under the class Textiles).
Labelling imprecision, found in the Italian catalogue, causes confusion and doubts, then…

“We can affirm that the catalogue’s information architecture is theoretically incoherent and chaotic, from a scientific point of view”

– The Matter of Coherence

Does this classification works anyway for Ikea customers?
Is it suitable for Ikea context?

  1. The main catalogue’s classes are created on customer’s demands and human cognitive models. For example:A potential buyer looking for a double bed will normally refer to the class “Bedroom”. But if the same customer wants to buy a cot for his baby, the same category wouldn’t be so obvious. The class “Children’s IKEA”, in this case, is a more appropriate reference.
  2. The categories’ order follows the degree of importance: the first ones are the most marketable according to business strategies and sales.

“The taxonomy is perfectly coherent

from the empiric-pragmatic point

of view,which is the most

important to make the information

retrieval easier”


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– Redesigning The Catalogue

In order to overcome the hierarchical relations’ infraction and ambiguous labelling problems, it’s important:
to create clear and suitable labels in appropriate language
to establish subclasses for each class in order to respect human mental associations
to avoid classes’ crossover

So, the new catalogue’s taxonomy should introduce these changes:
Kitchen” and “Dining” categories can be combined, as it happens inside the retail store. The same criterion can be used for “Wardrobes” and “Beds”: people usually associate them because of a matter of space. Someone who decides to buy furniture at Ikea, probably is not the owner of a big, luxury house.
Bigger attention to imprecise labels translation (found in the Italian catalogue) which may lead to misunderstandings and wrong interpretation.
Elimination of “Buying guides” category at the end of the catalogue. The technical information would be better consultable if attached at the end of each.

Source :

– Davide Potente & Erika Salvini, “Apple, IKEA and their integrated information Architecture” Presentation. Europe’s Fourth Information Architecture Summit Amsterdam, September 26-27 2008. Available at http://davidepotente.com/apple_ikea_integrated_ia.pdf