From Store to Warehouse: Designing for IKEA

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Chair of the Month

For four years, I had been enjoying my position as a graphic designer for the IKEA store in Seattle store. But then I received an intriguing offer — would I be willing to become a design specialist for a new IKEA distribution center?

The busy, Tacoma-area warehouse would support all of the North American IKEA retail outlets.And the company wanted to translate its corporate values of togetherness, enthusiasm, and “Swedishness” — already very clear in stores — to its warehouses and support offices.

IKEA’s Tacoma Warehouse

The role would require an individual who could integrate a passion for graphics with interior design to create engaging decor in an unlikely venue for standout design.

I warmed to the challenge.

IKEA’s Tacoma Warehouse

I understood the distribution center’s basic transactions – bring in trailers full of product shipments from as far away as China, store them in racking systems as high as 18 stories, and then create loads of shipments bound for stores and customers’ homes.

But I then spent hours observing the work process and talking with the facility’s manager. I wanted a better sense of daily operations; after all, my designs would be rooted in functionality.

IKEA Branding

I decided that the warehouse employees needed to experience the brand and be connected to the larger organization. Since IKEA’s key mission as a company is “To Create a Better Everyday Life for the Many People,” I knew we could take a big step toward creating a better everyday life for these employees by bringing the basics of the IKEA concept to them. That meant showing them the in-store experiences that communicates our unique company values, our fun and visual style, and our great product range.

IKEA Branding

I recognized from the start that the design needs of a distribution center were quite different from those of retail stores. For example, the stores have to display all IKEA styles to provide customers the full range of IKEA’s design options.


The warehouse, however, does not have to showcase the full variety of offerings. But I wanted to at least suggest IKEA’s forward-looking culture.

So, I selected modern decor – a style with the widest appeal and which conveys the IKEA brand’s contemporary attitude.

IKEA Work Areas

Practicality dictated the requisite number of tables, chairs, and storage units. But I then added a layer of fun for inspiration by choosing bright fabrics and trendy furniture — plus playful colors and graphics for the walls.

Also, our warehouses are high-energy, deadline-driven places. So I tried to imbue a sense of calm in the break rooms and a light-hearted, upbeat feeling for social areas.

IKEA Breakroom
IKEA Breakroom – Home-feel

We never forget that the pallets we’re moving throughout the warehouse are more than just a box. They are someone’s bedroom, living room, kitchen — their home!

IKEA Breakroom – overview
IKEA Breakroom – Overview 2

With the IKEA values and culture at the root of what we do and why we do it, we choose to do things a different way, including taking a regular warehouse environment and making it into something unique and inspiring.

Now I’m on a mission to bring IKEA’s other North American distribution centers up to the same high standard as the Tacoma warehouse. We already are in the midst of a redesign at the Perryville, MD., distribution center, and we look forward to bringing the IKEA culture to our other buildings as well.

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  1. Hi there! I’m curious to know how the designer was able to navigate all of the code-related issues using IKEA furniture. How did she go about getting the furniture selections approved for commercial use? Do they treat this space as another showroom?


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