Web design lessons from a trip to IKEA

Web design lessons from a trip to IKEA
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It was during a five-hour sojourn at IKEA, in Homebush Bay in Sydney, that it struck me. A trip to this infamous Swedish emporium has much to teach us about website development. Here are a few analogous thoughts I had about design, information architecture and usability and how they relate (loosely) to IKEA.

Please note: This is not a review of the IKEA website; that’s a whole different kettle of fish. No ecommerce in this day and age? Pah!


Like an eager IKEA aficionado desperate to grab a Malm bedside table, your customers should be excited to get to your site and see what you have to offer. If you have the budget, market your site on a mix of other media, offline and online, and make the most of peer recommendation by using social networks. Be consistent and clear in your communication and always use the same branding and tone of voice. This will help build a strong brand reputation and excitement about visiting your site.


You have two options here:

  1. Follow the IKEA idea of forcing customers like cattle around a prearranged grid. Result: you get them where you want them, when you want them, but they’re a touch grumpy.
  2. Allow your customers to navigate freely – using the navigation, images, contextual links, related links, etc. to find the content they want to see. Result: You don’t have complete control over how your user interacts with your site, but the customer is a happier monkey.


IKEA has invented a whole new lexicon for furniture. Names like ‘Hoppen’, ‘Lack’ and ‘Expedit’ trip easily off the tongue. Be sure to label the products, services and website pages clearly. For standard navigation elements (About, Services, Products, Contact), I recommend choosing commonly used words to make it easier for customers to understand. For products and services, aim for the slightly quirky terms.  Not only will this make you more memorable, it might achieve great cut-through for long-tail search terms.

Community areas

Often sites overstretch themselves by setting up some kind of discussion forum or community area and not maintaining it. Lack of moderation gives licence to low-quality content, spam and negative posts. Be vigilant. A spam post for diet pills in the middle of your weight loss forum can be as nasty as finding a Swedish meatball mashed into your chair in the IKEA café.


Visiting IKEA on a Sunday can feel like a trip to the seventh circle of hell. Obviously they need to make money but why let so many people in? Learn this lesson. Be sure to monitor traffic volumes on your site. Don’t let it get overloaded, sluggish or, worst case, crash completely. Unlike the IKEA customer, your visitor may not return.


You’ve chosen your products, you’ve even dragged them off the shelves – now it’s time to pay. What awaits you? Long queues at the checkout and more queues at the car park. Try to make every transaction with your website streamlined and easy: A one-page registration with minimal fields; a one-click unsubscribe from newsletters; a straightforward checkout process. Then test these processes vigorously and monitor exit pages. Avoid having the customer dumping their trolley full of Mammut kiddies’ furniture before they reach the registers.


In summary, when you’re building your website, aim for a customer-centric approach to everything. It’s often hard to divorce yourself from your content, so get friends, family (or even pay ‘real’ people) to use your site and tell you the sticking points.

Clearly IKEA have worked some magic. No matter how hideous it is navigating the store on a hot Sunday afternoon, dragging boxes twice your body weight from high shelves, and queuing for a millennium at the cash desks and car parks, we still go back for more. But imagine if the whole process were smoother, more enjoyable and more customer-centric. I’d be there every week

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