Swedish design?

On IKEA's aesthetic during the 1980s and 1990s, the export of "Swedish design" and national myths

All over the world, IKEA's blue warehouse with the yellow logo on the façade unwittingly recalls Sweden. The global business has a very pronounced Swedish identity and subscribes widely to the concept of "democratic design". IKEA also uses other words with positive connotations like equality and justice. Is this grounded in a passion for social justice or in materialistic calculations? Is it about "Swedish design" or some type of global aesthetic? The project aims to study IKEA during the 1980s and 1990s: a period of time when the symbolic connection to Sweden was strengthened through marketing. Can IKEA be regarded as Sweden's myth about itself – a type of national self-image at odds with reality? Among IKEA's enormous output, a selection of collections and campaigns from the period in question will be studied.

The subject is examined through the lens of national branding, storytelling and consumer theory. Despite the significant role IKEA has played in Swedish society, the little research that exists on the subject has mainly been conducted in the context of an art and design history perspective. For over fifty years the media has disseminated information about IKEA, which is sometimes regarded as a national treasure. That there are so few studies about the company's aesthetic is surprising, but underscores the importance of this project. Not only is IKEA a feature of the history of ideas in the context of the Swedish home, it is also one of Sweden's outward facing images, making it important to discuss which image it projects to the world.  

The project was conducted from 2010-2013, and was funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences. Project Manager: Sara Kristoffersson. Email: (sara.kristoffersson@konstfack.se).