The making of the IKEA catalogue

Every year user insights, home furnishing ideas and eight months of hard work culminate in the biggest free publication in the world. This is how the IKEA catalogue is made.

The IKEA catalogue was launched in 1951 and instantly gave many more people access to IKEA home furnishing products. Over 60 years later the latest edition has a print-run of 217 million, in 33 languages for 47 countries, and the digital catalogue has had 45 million visits.

The catalogue takes around eight months to create, from initial idea to print. It involves many competencies from across the IKEA world. Art directors, photographers, interior designers, copywriters, editors, image producers, product coordinators, seamstresses, carpenters, technicians and 3D artists – all add to the most popular free home furnishing publication in the world.

Where it all begins
Each year the IKEA catalogue is created with a new theme that helps support current commercial priorities. The theme comes out of knowledge and insights about life at home, gathered through home visit interviews, market research, trend analysis and really listening to consumers’ needs. The theme of the current catalogue is focused on the bedroom and bathroom and is called ‘Where the everyday begins and ends. We all go to sleep, and we all wake up. That much is true for everyone. But everything else about those moments, and everything in between them, is totally unique.

The creative team (the Creative Hub) at IKEA Communications AB, where many ideas for IKEA communications are developed, uses the theme to start creating the catalogue. Every page is planned in detail from the text, price labels, icons, room settings, interior design tips, product lists and more. About a quarter of the IKEA product range is shown in the catalogue. Highlights and new products from the IKEA range are included, as well as home furnishing ideas that bring the theme to life.

“The catalogue is made as global as possible, but as local as necessary,” says Johan Wickmark, Global Catalogue Manager, IKEA Retail Services AB. Meaning that if necessary the catalogue is adapted to each IKEA market. Different languages (often with more than one within a single market) resulted in 68 catalogue versions this year. Within the versions there are also some variations in the product range. For example, because people like to sleep differently across the world, the mattress range varies from country to country. There are also differences in how homes are planned, like open plan kitchen/dining areas in some parts of the world and separate kitchens and dining rooms in others. In general though, life at home tends to have more similarities than differences. What we do at home is much the same; it’s just how we do it that’s different.

The catalogue is also created with input from the successes, and challenges, of previous years. Qualitative feedback is gathered from consumers in five markets – this year Russia, the U.S.A, Germany, China and Italy. Respondents are asked, among other things, about their expectations before they see the catalogue, their initial reactions to it, and how inspired they are.

Catalogue cover stop motion

From idea to reality
The next stage of the catalogue happens at the Production House of IKEA Communications. This is not only where the art work for the IKEA catalogue is produced, but also other IKEA publications including the IKEA kitchen and seasonal brochures, plus web content for the 47 markets worldwide are produced here. In just nine short weeks, starting each year in February, all the images for the catalogue are created. This year there were 2,000 images.

Interior designers create inspirational room settings based on insights about people’s life at home. “We always want to create new, exciting solutions that give people the confidence to furnish their home for their needs and dreams, rather than following conventions,” says Mats Nilsson, Lead Interior Designer, Creative Hub. With this in mind a “story” is created for each room.


Planning from build to takedown is key to meeting tight deadlines and keeping costs down. For example everything about a room setting is decided in advance:  should the door in the room be open or closed? What will the view out of the window be? Does the kitchen drawer need to open? What should be photographed, what should be created digitally?

Over the last few years, 3D imaging has become an important part of the IKEA image production process. Keeping costs down and being efficient is always the goal, so that ultimately the price of IKEA products can stay as low as possible. 3D imaging plays its part in this. For example, changing kitchen cupboard doors in 3D saves time and reduces costs. Or creating a New York style loft-apartment in 3D is much more practical than shipping a whole team and props to a real location. The number of images needed for the catalogue keeps growing as new IKEA markets emerge. “3D imaging is the most practical way for us to increase production while constantly developing creative quality and keeping costs low,” says Annelie Sjögren, Image Production Manager, IKEA Communications AB.

Piecing it together, country by country
With so many markets, languages and product variants, the standard 324-page catalogue ends up with over 1,000 artwork variants and a staggering 11,500 different text files. “Every year the markets are provided with a typography manual, copy guidelines and product text priorities from which they create and price their local version,” explains Susie Broster, Graphic Designer – Delivery at the Production House. She continues, “It’s an extremely detailed and complicated process to ensure each market has the correct text and images, but we achieve it by utilising some fantastic production tools that help us monitor the exact status of every image and text file each step of the way, from the moment we supply it to when it goes to print.”


A catalogue for the digital age
An online version of the IKEA catalogue was first available in 2004, and an app was launched in 2011. Through the app you can download the entire IKEA catalogue and also use it to scan pages of the printed version to access films, 360° room settings, and the stories behind the products. Going digital has meant the catalogue can reach even more people and can be adapted in more interactive ways.

Last year a feature called ‘Place in your room’ was launched as part of the app. It lets you arrange virtual furniture anywhere in your home, making it easy to see how it looks and whether it fits before buying. Jens Ganslandt, Product Manager Digital IKEA catalogue, Inter IKEA Systems B.V., explains how the app adds value for IKEA customers. “We surveyed our customers’ habits and found that it’s quite common for people to buy furniture in the wrong size, and we also found that many people don’t know the measurements of their homes. With the app we want to solve this problem in an easy, fun way.”

To launch this year’s catalogue, IKEA Singapore and Malaysia created a launch campaign called ‘Experience the power of a bookbookTM`. The video, which presents the catalogue using a fun parody of digital product advertising that re-engages people with the joys of print, became an instant YouTube hit.

The next catalogue begins its journey
In September 2014 the team at the Creative Hub was briefed on the next edition (2016) of the IKEA catalogue. The eight-month development cycle started up once more. Initial information from the success of the last edition has started to come in. Just in time to improve the catalogue that will reach our homes and screens in under a year’s time.