Ikea's traditional blue and yellow logo was designed as a nod to the company's Swedish heritage. It's easy to recognize and can be seen from a distance, as you drive up to the warehouse-sized store. Other than that, the logo is pretty bland.
Ikea’s merchandise, however, has many characteristics: It’s minimalist, affordable, space-friendly, and has tongue-twisting Swedish product names. Its graphic identity just doesn't really speak to any of them. "It’s instantly recognizable as being a Swedish institution, but does it suit Ikea as a company in 2014?" asks student designer Joe Ling. "I don’t think so."
Ling decided to do some course correcting, in a project for a class at the Norwich University of the Arts, in the United Kingdom. The class was asked to choose from a list of companies that included, in addition to Ikea, Bang & Olufsen, and toy maker Meccano. Ling's take: Not only does the Ikea logo look dated, but it doesn’t articulate what Ikea does best, which is to sell playful, flat-packed furniture.
"I remember as a child going to Ikea with my family and running up and down the seemingly never-ending aisles of cardboard boxes filled with flat packaged furniture," he tells Co.Design. "I thought the most recognizable way to represent Ikea would be if the branding itself had an element of construction."
Ling's logo is a 3-D outline of the Ikea letters, stacked unevenly. The lines evoke the sketches of chair legs and tabletops found in Ikea’s instruction manuals, and they appear to be mid-motion, like a freeze-frame of a Schoolhouse Rock animation. The theme of construction is sometimes more conceptual than it is illustrated: Employee tags, worn on lanyards, must be joined together, in a group of four, to create the entire logo. For the instruction manuals, Ling included a sleeve that has to come off. "The identity is very much designed to be constructed by the person interacting with it, exactly like Ikea furniture," Ling says.
Graphic redesigns don’t come easy. In 2009, Ikea accosted type nerds everywhere when they swapped out the heritage-rich Futura font in their catalogs with the more generic Verdana typeface. Because Futura was created by a German designer in 1920, and Verdana was designed later, for computers, the move signaled to many a philosophical shift away from original design.
But this newer proposal also prompts the question: If Ling's redesign took hold, would it make consumers think more about the manual labor that lies ahead, and less about Ikea's design point of view? "A brand’s identity has to communicate exactly what that business does. If it doesn’t do that, it falls at the first hurdle," Ling says about his project. Indeed, the implications of shopping at Ikea are hardly a secret by now. For many, it's one of the benefits, because flat-packed furniture is more efficient, and is part and parcel with Ikea's success in opening stores in more than 40 countries, and working with young designers from around the world.
And if that kills your shopping aspirations, there's always Taskrabbit.