Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind disruptive products through the lens of design.
After 70 years in business, Swedish furniture giant Ikea has established itself as one of the most recognizable retailers in the world.
More than just a brand name, the company has come to represent the unique shopping experience of walking a long, winding path through furniture showrooms leading to a self-serve warehouse of tightly-packed products. Ikea's 345 stores attracted 775 million customer visits last year, a statistic that goes a long way in validating what the company calls "The Ikea Concept"--that is, striving to design products that can be purchased by as many people as possible.
So how did Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad get his company's furniture into the homes of so many people around the world?
Here are four design lessons that have helped Ikea dominate the global furniture and home accessories market:
1. Reduce costs at every corner.
One of the keys to Ikea's manufacturing process is a relentless focus on keeping costs low. The company achieves this in large part by beginning the design of every product with a low price in mind, and by building its furniture using low-cost medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which the company purchases in large volumes. Finally, Ikea manufactures its furniture in developing countries outside of Sweden to reduce costs even further.
2. Keep customers guessing.
The layout of Ikea's stores can be maddening but genius nonetheless. The floor plan is built around a main aisle that curves every 50 feet to keep customers curious about what's next. "One could describe it as if Ikea grabs you by the hand and consciously guides you through the store in order to make you buy as much as possible," Johan Stenebo, a 20-year veteran of Ikea, wrote in his 2009 book, The Truth About Ikea.
3. Strive for convenience.
Ikea invented flat-packed furniture more than 50 years ago after a product designer was having difficulty storing a table in his car and came up with idea of taking the legs off. Today, the majority of Ikea's products come in flat packs with instructions allowing customers to assemble the furniture with simple tools. The space-conserving design makes the products relatively easy to transport, both during the manufacturing process and after being sold.
4. Turn customers into stakeholders.
The building-block nature of Ikea's furniture is why the company has been referred to as "Legos for grownups." By including consumers in the process of putting the products together and keeping prices low, Ikea has managed to keep shoppers coming back. And let's not forget the pride that comes from building (OK, assembling) a piece of furniture.