Ikea’s Simulacrum

An amazing 75% of the images in an Ikea catalog are not photographs but CGI.

…the real turning point for us was when, in 2009, they called us and said, “You have to stop using CG. I’ve got 200 product images and they’re just terrible. You guys need to practise more.” So we looked at all the images they said weren’t good enough and the two or three they said were great, and the ones they didn’t like were photography and the good ones were all CG! Now, we only talk about a good or a bad image – not what technique created it.”



So, I can't *really* buy that or, stated another way, they didn't build that.

They built this one and printed it in pixels. Or they can print it in ink on wood pulp sheets. Or they can print it in pieces of wood covered in paint. I have always felt strange handing people printed versions of digital documents. Why do they want an imitation of the real thing?

What you're actually buying is not some idealized design concept. It's the physical object. What you're interested in is what the actual physical object will be like, in as high fidelity as possible. If, for example, their process of turning the idealized design concept into a physical object is low-fidelity, you don't know that if a totally separate process turns the idealized design concept into a high fidelity digital rendering.

Selling furniture is difficult for the same reason selling an empty house is difficult: most people lack imagination. Rooms to Go tries to avoid the difficulty by selling a room, a room full of furniture, rather than individual pieces of furniture. Similarly, Ikea tries to sell not only a room but every room in the house. The Ikea "look" doesn't appeal to me; it looks as unreal as the "photographs" turned out to be.

I think the major problem is that the way ikea furniture is constructed, is that it is impossible to make it look like the catalog pages. You can buy an entire room from the catalog, but when you install it, everything will be slightly crooked, or chipped not not lined up properly.

AndrewL nailed it! (pun intended)

The few Ikea pieces I have bought and assembled look just fine. I read the instructions, thought it through, and together it went. No chips, and everything aligns just fine.

Some furniture kits are of abysmal quality, but I have had good luck when I bought from Ikea.

Wow - only two hours slower than Metafilter. Talk about starting to play in the big leagues.

I have no problem with this since IKEA sells a simulacrum of furniture in the first place.

My opinion is quite different. We have pieces of Ikea furniture that are over 20 years in use at this time. I have one bunk/cave bed (bed frame over desk) that has been in use for that long. Misuse actually, since my son refuses to let us get rid of it, and he is grown well over the weight rating now - and has been for some years. My experience with Ikea furniture has been good value, and reasonable pricing. When I compare to quality available elsewhere, I almost always pay less at Ikea. Not all their concept products work so well, but again, comparing to elsewhere, and considering value available at a price point? They come out pretty well.

Related: Ikea Germany introduces lifetime warranty. (they already have lifetime warranty in Denmark and Norway)

Is Ikea furniture different in Europe? It seems difficult to believe you could offer a lifetime warranty on the junk they sell in the US, as Urso and AndrewL reflect in their comments above. Although I suppose since they market to young people, perhaps they assume their customers will move and abandon the furniture before it falls apart?

Well all the Ikea furniture I have here in Germany seems to be pretty fragile, but some of it second hand and in pretty good shape. My guess is that Ikea has good data on its products and knows that some of them last a surprisingly long time. Especially when they are owned by the kind of responsible, middle-class Germans who like life-time warranties.

Also, consider that those middle-class Germans know how to follow instructions from a manual and operate a screwdriver properly.

Sure, some of the stuff Ikea sells is cheap particle board or junky. But they do have a lot of quality products, you just have to find it. Recently bought a bedroom set of really nice, solid pine wood. It's gonna last and it looks great.

That explains the reports of Ikea "erasing" women from catalogs sold in the Arab world, leaving only fathers and sons.

Hehe! That's great! Well, a good application for CGI - cultural sensitivity.

I've never been to an Ikea whereas I did once visit a Starbucks (but never again). And I've twice had a Big Mac (bna too).
Of modernish shopping experiences, the best I've had is at Aldi.

Do the kids stay off of your lawn? My god you're an old fogey.

My kind of old fogey. Ikea is crap, Starbucks is for lazy morons, Big Mac is for retards and Aldi - don't know about it - but it looks really crap, too. The kids stay off my lawn just fine - I live in the neighborhood where parents are responsible enough to make sure their kids behave.

Being crap, it's not wonder that Ikea prefers fakes over real things. It's a meta confirmation that their real things suck.

Aldi may look crap, but the stuff they sell (at least here in the UK) is much of it in the decent-to-really-good range. The only exception I can remember is light bulbs: utterly dire.

Aldi is modish?

The article seems to suggest that it's more cost effective to use CGI.

But, I wonder whether the problem is that the products don't photograph well?
And I wonder if the CGI is a "true" representation of what the actual product looks like?

When Macys puts a dress on a 21 year old 36-24-36 model, is that a true representation of what the actual product will look like in practice? How about those Jeep commercials where they apparently spend all their time roaring through national parks?

With brings up the issue of misrepresentation: I thought pictures depicting something for sale had to be actual, even if unrealistically perfect, examples of what is being sold, perhaps with blueberries added to the corn flakes as a serving suggestion.

Yeah, it's not that it's necessarily cheaper (short-term), it's just very difficult and extremely time consuming to photograph very large amounts of product in a consistent manner. My company's just had to photograph ~70,000 products from multiple suppliers, and it's a nightmare, currently feels like painting the Forth Bridge - it's just a constant process of rephotographing (shiny objects being the main horror). CGI centralises the process, and tbh does come out as a 'truer' representation - product images are there for the consumers, and with CGI you have a much higher degree of control over ensuring imagery matches physical product. There's an fairly widespread cynicism toward it (as demonstrated in the comments here), but for certain product categories (furniture, for example), it makes more sense than photography.

Is CGI the reason why the photo on microwaveable food looks nothing at all like the actual contents?

Same thing with pictures in an Applebee's menu or any other restaurant chain. What the server delivers seldom resembles the menu item. Should you be able to send it back?

It can be real food, but "staged" with lighting + cosmetics (superglue, etc.)

The levels of falsification, in the pursuit of representational perfection, in food photography is a subject all its own. It IS an art. And there are plenty of non-palatable, non-digestible aids used.

You see CGI everywhere.

You mean, of course, the Clinton Global Initiative.

All those Playboy models I sleep with? Well - let's just say they don't look like their centerfold spread cooking me breakfast the next morning.

For people complaining about Ikea, go over to craigs list and observe how powerful a brand it is in second hand furniture. There are huge benefits to buying Ikea - because you can sell it easily - buyers trust the product since they can look it up online and figure out if they need it as well as how to put it together (typically sellers will break the furniture down a little); in addition, if some part is off, replacements are easy to get.

Not to mention it is relatively lightweight, extremely cheap, fairly durable - I've had an Ikea table for about 7 years now and it is frankly just as good as new. For people who move at least once every couple of years there is simply no alternative to the benefits.

Most opponents to Ikea haven't really used it. The only downfall is every house looks the same. But whatcha gonna do.

I had an Ikea dresser straight out of college that fell apart in less than 3 years. Literally, the bottom fell out of the drawer. I then decided life is too short for cardboard furniture.

I had an Ikea bookshelf out of college. It wasn't straight when I put it together (it wasn't made very precisely - this wasn't a failure to follow the pretty good instructions and simple assembly process) and it warped with time.

It was cheap though. And the store and catalog are very pleasant.

Proving once again that the best kind of Ikea furniture is none at all.

(I had a bed and a chair from Ikea in Germany. Both required screw tightening sessions every month or so, and the bed ended up falling apart in less than two years.)

I got a chair, a couch, and a coffee table from Ikea about 8 years ago, as well as innumerable bookcases. The chair has needed screw-tightening from time to time. Aside from that, they've all held up well. And when my cat threw up on the chair, staining it, last month, I was like, "This chair cost me $60. I do not feel bad about paying $60 for eight years of use."

Ikea furniture is great for what it is. If you go in expecting a $60 chair to be as good in every way as a $600 chair, or even a $120 chair, well, don't.

I will say that, for the price, both the appearance and functionality are pretty good. But I expect furniture to have more durability.

I have lots of IKEA furniture, which is over 30 years old.

Crossing 2 times the Atlantic

1) IKEA has multiple levels of quality at different price points. The really cheap stuff doesn't last very long. The nicer stuff does. It's worth knowing a bit about woodworking to know the difference. That point is actually true of all things and spending more money on furniture from a different place doesn't make it any better.

2) I've known a number of anti-IKEA folks become IKEA folks once they actually saw the products in action. My father is a woodworker and has made us some absolutely beautiful furniture. But there are some projects I come to him with and his response is to start with IKEA and customize from there. And he loves buying their hardware (hello, European hinges) since it's a quarter of the price for the same thing elsewhere. My friend's dad builds houses and they both looked down their noses at IKEA kitchens when friend started doing renovations. Then after a few trips to look closely at the product and installing their first one in a house they were converted. You can't beat the quality at that price point.

3) As for everything looking the same - spend some time with IKEA hacks. We have a fair amount of IKEA in our house and people are always surprised by it being from IKEA. The beauty of the price point is that it's an easy springboard for creativity. I'm putting together a wall hung banquet right now made of Besta cabinets that my dad is fitting a maple top and sides to. It's going to look pretty slick.

"I had an Ikea dresser straight out of college that fell apart in less than 3 years"

" I’ve had an Ikea table for about 7 years now and it is frankly just as good as new"

I wonder if these posts tell us more about the quality of IKEA stuff or about the people who buy the stuff

I've had numerous pieces of non-Ikea furniture that lasted many years, thanks. Are people really this devoted to Ikea, to the point where if someone dares criticize it they will resort to ad homs? "The furniture isn't the problem, YOU'RE the problem!"

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But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk about this subject here on your

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