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Ikea's New Catalog Lets You Play With Furniture In 3-D

With a free app, the Swedish furniture giant lumbers into the digital age.

Ikea's New Catalog Lets You Play With Furniture In 3-D

If you’re like 211 million others, you received Ikea’s 2013 catalog in the mail earlier this month. Look closely and you’ll notice some changes to the familiar paperweight tome of Scandinavian affordability. We’re not talking about the PS Collection, though we’ve certainly sung its praises before (read this and this), but rather the smartphone icons scattered throughout the book on the upper right-hand corners. What they mean is that Ikea has entered the digital age—with a free app that enables you to interact via your phone or tablet with various pieces of furniture in 3-D.

Now before you scoff at downloading another app, let me say this: I’ve seen it in action, and it’s actually useful. Hover your phone over, say, the PS TV cabinet and conjure up a floating view of it and witness the cabinet doors (pictured closed in the catalog) slide open—a helpful feature when you’re selecting furniture for tight spaces. Or watch a demonstration of how a dining-room table expands as its leaf is added—long before deciding to brave the store.

The revamp is the work of McCann-Erickson, which was charged with the task of refreshing the catalog without alienating Ikea loyalists. (The Swedish company faced a firestorm of criticism when it changed its house typeface from Futura to Verdana.) Apart from choosing to organize the offerings according to activity (working, relaxing, sleeping, "me-ing") instead of by room, McCann added 43 digital extras, produced in collaboration with Ikea’s in-house agency Icom, ranging from inspirational videos to how-to guides.

Looking through the catalog, one gets the sense that the newfangled digital component isn’t some tacked-on gewgaw designed to bring Ikea up to date, but to add more another layer of information in what has become a predictable piece of mail. Plus, it’s completely unobtrusive, receding into the background until you care to take notice, unlike QR codes, which clamor for space and attention. So what does Ikea plan to do about its sorry , you ask? That, apparently, is on McCann’s list. But you’ll still have to visit the store to eat the meatballs.

Download the free app here.