Ikea, synthesizers and the state of marketing

One of my main guiding ideas – paradigms, is the notion that “The future of advertising is design”, claimed by Rei Inamoto circa 2012 (and possibly someone else before that, that I do not know of). In 2012, I myself had no idea about this notion, and I think it’s safe to believe that most people – even in marketing, hadn’t really thought about it either. Now, however seems to be the time for this paradigm, as more and more companies claim to be guided by “design thinking”, buzz-wordy as it is, it can be thought of as the idea of implementing “design thinking”, in the entire production chain – making products desirable for the intended use cases by creating engagement in the product on organisational level.

I highly recommend listening to this UX Podcast-episode featuring Jared Spool, if you’re interested in this topic:

#195 Infused design with Jared Spool

Further on, IKEA’s former head of design, Marcus Engman, are also thinking in similar terms, as he recently stated:

“I want to show there’s an alternative to marketing, which is actually design… And if you work with design and communications in the right way, that would be the best kind of marketing, without buying media”
– Marcus Engman

Source: https://www.fastcompany.com/90249188/design-will-kill-marketing-says-ikeas-former-design-chief

He clearly lags behind Inamoto with these claims, but as many Ikea products are very desirable just by the look of them already, chances are that they have been working according these terms for a long time already. Possibly most notably their anniversary collections inspired by classic designs, that they’ve been running during this fall:

IKEA celebrates 75th anniversary with vintage furniture collections

Ikea is also an interesting company, as by its core their products are mostly very analog. And their approach this far has been kind of wholesale-y. But that’s starting to change. Ikea has during just the last year or so developed a reasonably good web store with fast home delivery service (at least here in Sweden), their plans for the future do also suggest smaller showcase stores in densely populated areas such as Manhattan (which you can read about here), and self-driving vehicles conceptualized by their innovation lab Space10.

A furniture-showcasing vehicle as demonstrated in the Spaces on wheels report, by Space10

If you take a look at one of those “spaces on wheels” by Space10, I guess your inital reaction will be in the likes of that it looks somewhat strange, but perhaps also “friendly” or “welcoming”, or maybe even “playful”. All I can think about when I see it is “Teenage Engineering”. Another Swedish company, set out to make music production less daunting. Space 10’s design language is very similar to theirs, and it’s clear that Space10 has taken a lot of inspiration from them. Teenage Engineering do with their products also break many conventions of how music production tools are supposed to work – and look, for the sake of it being more playful and easier to enjoy. Of course, not everybody takes their side – and many musicians rule their products out as toys, even though some of their products are extremely capable and not necessarily easy to learn it either (some tend to perceive that as an actual quality of professional products, and not a biproduct of complexity).

This is what one of Teenage Engineering’s products looks-, sounds- and works like:

In the same regard, the spaces on wheels may look fragile to some, and like a dream come true to other audiences. Because no matter what you do, you can’t design for everyone. And that’s something that’s been particularly interesting for me, now when I’m working on my blog series “Making a beginner synthesizer 2.0”, that will replace the old one. I often find myself trying to please the hardcore audience by representing functionality in a more traditional way. And even if it’s possible that the traditional way actually is the best way, there’s no way to know but trying another way.

The problem in reality however, that has inspired this wave of Design > Advertising, is that most companies aren’t prone to such risks. The biggest companies may be forced into this direction to even make an impact. For them there’s probably no point to put out traditional advertising unless they have some new product to announce. Yet they have to stay ahead of the game to not lag behind, as such it might be meaningful to have R&D-departments coming up with cool things that can be developed into real, desirable products. Just as Ikea do with their Copenhagen-based Space10.

A company that’s more commonly held in a more serious regard is Elektron (Also Swedish, I have a Swedish company-bonanza today), another company making music making equipment. Not too unlike companies like Apple, their most recent product line screams desirability – and it doesn’t really even matter how they work, because by the looks of it they just seem to work well. Pointing to the notion of that “good looking things work better” – or that “attractive people are smarter” – and so forth. This is instinct. Desire. At its core. But its also superficial, and the reason that it works is because we are superficial.


Sell-y ads however, that doesn’t capture the feeling of how it would be to own a particular product, aren’t attractive. And as such – not desirable. Attractiveness do however not only take the shape of the very superficial or visceral aspects, but also come in clothes dubbed as “usability” or “behavioral emotional design”, which also covers how it feels to use the product in particular.

And what it all boils down to, following this trail that I’ve set out for us, is that the only thing you need to do as marketer is to show what makes your particular product so desirable. No need for price cuts or ads meant to brainwash the target audience (and annoy the hell out of everybody else). And that’s because those processes that previously was an afterthought just to ship more units, is becoming core of the product itself.

Compare the usage between two generations of Elektron products:



Which makes you the most compelled? Why?

Coming from a video background, the only thing here that makes either one more compelling (I’ll leave which up to you), is not only due to the product itsef, but also how it’s presented. While the older video captures more of the technical aspects, the latter tries to capture the feeling of using it, as well as the actual capabilities. However, they’re both in many ways the same product “under the hood”.

My point here isn’t to state that design is the ultimate way forward in marketing. Or well, maybe it is. But there’s no clear direction in which you can move to achieve this “marketing that starts at an organizational level”-thingy. It’s by no means an easy task, especially not in those organizations with humongous bureaucracy’s that seemingly has problems outputting even the simplest things in any reasonable amount of time. So no matter how optimistic I might be that we’re actually moving towards a more creative business, not even I do doubt that there will be plenty to do in traditional communications for years to come, also.

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