Home & Living
Thought leadership

Talking Shop with Martin Hiddink Carmona of IKEA: The art of compelling product visuals

It’s widely accepted that compelling product visuals and engaging communications influence shoppers significantly. IKEA, the largest international furniture retailer since 2008, masters the complex balance between in-store and online imagery to provide its customers with an immersive experience that is both memorable and intentional. 

Reinforcing key themes: sustainability, quality, and low prices, IKEA focuses on consistency in order to create positive in-store experiences. Following COVID restrictions, enhancing their online presence in order to tell the same story on their website became even more critical. 

With over 30 years of experience working with IKEA leading graphic communication and design in multiple countries, Country Graphics Communication Manager Martin Hiddink Carmona has witnessed first-hand IKEA’s shift toward the implementation of a better online experience. 

In this Q&A, Carmona delves into the inner workings of IKEA’s graphic communication objectives, how IKEA has adapted its practices over several decades, and his responsibility in forming the visual consistency found in every IKEA store around the globe today. 

Q: How would you describe your role as Country Graphics Communication Manager at IKEA? 

I owned the graphics teams inside the store and led the central graphics team in the central offices. I was directly and exclusively responsible for greeting the customers in the store with graphic communication. Graphic communication at IKEA is considered a support function for selling furniture, inspiring the furniture, and, as we say in IKEA, improving everyday life through home furnishing for our customers.

My goal was to make everything consistent. How we do this needs to be communicated to our customers through verbal communication but also through the concept of touch and feel online and in-store. We have to convey we have the highest possible quality for the lowest possible price.

Our graphics designers do an incredible amount of work in an incredibly short time to accomplish this. We use templates and fixed ways of communication all over the rooms in our stores to reach the customer in a consistent way.


Q: What other information are you trying to communicate with the customer with these graphic pieces?

Over the last 10 years, one of the biggest ones has been sustainability because we have a responsibility also from that point of view. We’re investing huge amounts of energy in communicating that principle in our graphic design and graphic communication. But also in production, we own the forests, and we try to manage them sustainably.

Sustainability means that we have to be able to sustain our production, our communication, our graphic design, and our graphic communication throughout the process without putting that on the bill of the customer but also without putting it on the bill of the world. It’s extremely important because this is part of who we are.


Q: How does IKEA’s e-commerce team translate communications in-store to an online platform?

Well, we try to imagine the people sitting in the store — or in their homes during COVID — not being able to visit the store but needing a desk, a sofa, or a beautiful children’s room. We decided to start with online visual merchandise teams, and we spent a lot of focus on photographic services that we used to do for catalogs. Our catalog was the biggest publication on Earth after the Bible for many years, and with our move toward sustainability, we actually stopped doing that. But much of this expertise and much of this inspiration was put online.

We have special pages with beautiful animations and photographs that show our product’s functions and form. There is a focus on demographic design and making everyday lives better for normal people. That was a great help to advise the online sales team.

And if we look at the sales figures. Everywhere during COVID and after, online sales have incredible growth figures. But at IKEA, our sales increased 1000% in certain countries. So yes, I can say that our expertise in the stores, leading with our business idea and demographic design, proved to be incredibly useful for our e-commerce teams. 


Q: How does IKEA replicate that ‘touch and feel’ experience online?

We started using 3D product pictures. A couple of years ago, IKEA launched an app called “Place” where you could actually place a product in your own home. Besides seeing beautiful rooms, beautiful imagery, and photographs in a Swedish/Scandinavian way, this was supported by the 3D image in our app where you could experience the product.

Q: How does IKEA see the customer journey?

Internally for many years, we talked about multi-channel sales, and at a certain point, the subject changed. From multi-channel, it became omnichannel and I thought, what does that mean? At this point, we realized that nowadays, there are still customers who only want the lowest price, but now convenience is more important. Whatever they want, whenever they want it, however they want it, in the way they want it, and always for the best possible price. 

We have many offices where you just go to plan your space and have everything delivered. We know that many people don’t have a car anymore to take them out to the motorway and out to the city. This is why IKEA is changing. This is what omnichannel means to IKEA, and online sales are an essential part of that next to the stores.


Q: Over your 30-year career at IKEA, what is one specific consumer expectation that you have seen change?

Until five or six years ago, when going to work, you didn’t see anyone’s faces because they were behind the newspaper and reading the news, and this meant that in the stores, we were able to tell our stories through print. We were able to explain why IKEA has low prices and why the design is important. It was this nice, long text, and people stood in front of this text actually reading it.

Nowadays, when you go to work, you’ll see people behind their smartphones and not reading. Probably flipping through images and watching TikTok. I noticed in the stores that I could not ask our customers to read something for five minutes. So, what that meant for the customer from our perspective was always reducing the text people had to read and needing multimedia content inside the store.

We kept communications short and sweet and included videos, animations, and QR codes. What that means for store communication is more of a concentration on copywriting. Using the right words at the right moment, placed in an attractive, simple way, detaching itself from the surroundings without going into competition with the rooms themselves.


Q: How has IKEA remained at the forefront for so many generations?

The company has existed for 75 years now, and we have served three to four generations. We want to appeal to our lifelong customers, but we also want to serve the next generation. For that, our brand persona has to be able to appeal to all these age groups.

Until a few years ago, our visual merchandisers were asked to sell a product with function and to sell a product in an inspirational way as if they were at home. Now, they have to consider online presence. They have to make rooms so attractive that people want to take a selfie with them and share it on Instagram. Seeing a beautiful room setting online actually enhances reality. It doesn’t make it simpler or flatter. It deepens the experience because it doesn’t substitute, it adds.  

At the beginning of this shift, I was shocked, to be honest, but being shocked is a good thing because it means that the world is changing. What we do is make it our own, making it IKEA, making it recognizable. It’s still us, we haven’t changed, we move with the times but we’re still here.

Insights in your inbox

Stay up to date with insights, data, and how-tos focused on the world of product imagery and e-merchandising.

Read more

Read more

Talking Shop with Martin Hiddink Carmona of IKEA: The art of compelling product visuals

June 26, 2023

Q2 2023

Dynamic Display

With Dynamic Display, shoppers easily mix and match multiple products in real-time — and shop directly from the experience. Retailers can seamlessly embed this on their websites and apps, showcasing these shoppable showrooms wherever they do business online.

Search and tag visuals

Users can now search visuals on the platform! Instead of scrolling through visuals or looking up product or template details, users can easily find visuals using keywords and filters. Filters include visual type, products, organizations, creators, status, and creation date. And now, with the ability to tag visuals, users can also search by tag. 

Advanced template search takes this a step further. When users begin creating a visual by selecting a product, in addition to seeing all compatible templates, they can now search for specific templates using a variety of filters, including categories, ratios, tags, and more.

Enhanced scene creation

Our redesigned scene editor offers a more immersive editing canvas while providing a simpler, easy-to-learn, and more intuitive UI. Users can swap products, repaint walls — and ultimately create scenes — faster than ever.

Vastly improved swap diversity

We've rebuilt how product swaps work to allow users to browse and swap any product with the accurate geometry. Gone are the limitations of a single or select group of product categories, enabling users to leverage their creativity by quickly transforming a bedroom into a home office or a garage into a home gym.

Preview Visuals Within Email Notifications

Each email notifying you about a new packshot, 360, or lifestyle will include a beautiful preview image helping you maintain context and make more informed decisions.

Control Your 360° spins

Customize your 360° spins by editing the duration, manipulating the zoom, or changing the camera angle to your exact specifications.


Want to get a full tour of the product? Request a demo today!

Insights in your inbox

Stay up to date