A white sofa displayed on a low podium in an exhibition space.

IKEA brings together Swedish and Korean design

The first Sweden + Korea Young Design Week opened to the public last week in the Zaha Hadid designed Dongdaemun Plaza in Seoul, South Korea. Continents apart but close at heart, the exhibition illustrates that Korea and Sweden are united by the language of design. IKEA was proud to facilitate and support the event.

Sweden + Korea Young Design Week is a three-part exhibition and series of design talks. Everything about this event is a celebration of the energy and potential of design. It is the result of a unique collaboration between the Swedish government, Swedish design institutions and IKEA. When opening the event, the Ambassador of Sweden to the Republic of Korea, Anne Höglund, said that “we wanted to do this project together not only because we want to show smart and beautiful Swedish design, our idea is much bigger than that. We believe that design is a reflection of society and that it’s also contributing in an important way to all areas of society. The most important objective of our exhibition and the whole design week is to connect Sweden and South Korea and create partnerships long after we turn off the lights here.”

An exhibition space with household items displayed on small podiums.


A man and a woman holding a microphone each and standing on a stage, both smiling.

CEO IKEA Korea, Andre Schmidtgall with Anne Höglund, Ambassador of Sweden to the Republic of Korea.

A man dressed in black addressing an audience.

IKEA Head of Design, Marcus Engman, talking to the Korean design press about Democratic Design.

Stacked grey and white boxes.


The foundations for the future were already established at the opening by announcing that IKEA, together with Svensk Form (Swedish society of crafts and design), the Swedish Embassy, the Korean Institute for Design Promotion and Seoul Design Foundation, is initiating an award for young Korean designers. Young designers can enter with an idea, a prototype or whatever it is that they are interested in. Inspired by the Swedish platform Ung Svensk Form, where young designers are selected every year by a jury of professionals to be part of a touring exhibition, the purpose of this award is to broaden young Korean designers’ perception of design and help them reach new audiences in Sweden and Korea. Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA, was impressed by the attention to detail, the craft and particularity shown in the exhibition by young Korean designs. He said that “IKEA being involved with the Ung Svensk Form has been a successful way to draft talent to IKEA and now to be able to do this award in Korea it’s also a great opportunity.” Winners will be rewarded with a trip to Sweden, including a visit to the IKEA Democratic Design Centre in Älmhult. Andre Schmidtgall, IKEA Korea CEO, hopes “that the current exhibition will inspire young designers to apply.” So, let’s take a closer look.

Five people holding microphones, seated side by side on a stage.

More than an exhibition. Here, a design talk about Democratic Design and the future.

An exhibition space with things displayed on podiums in different heights.

The work of the brightest of young Korean designers was on display in Seoul.

An exhibition space with displays of garments and household items.

Exhibition of young Swedish designers, everything from fashion to architecture.

A DJ in a white jumpsuit works audio equipment before a crowd.

Jesper Kouthoofd from teenage engineering at the opening party.

United by the language of design

Filling the length of the exhibition hall are products made using the IKEA ethos of Democratic Design. Staples such as ISTAD plastic bags and LAMPAN table lamps, arranged in a flower-like constellation, are next to products yet to hit the stores. We spied the aluminium DELAKTIG sofa made in collaboration with Tom Dixon, STRIX and STRAX bed linen designed by Inez Svensson in the 70’s and a prototype of Virgil Abloh’s rug. Opposite, were investigations, experiments and experiences in the fields of fashion, architecture, industrial and graphic design and more. Selected works by students from Kookmin, Hongik and Seoul National universities on one side, and winners of Ung Svensk Form on the other. Stand out pieces were Juhong Park’s intricate and forever ticking machine Makina Murmuro, specially designed to help our brains rest in this information age and Sunghee Park, Yoosun Ahn and Minjung Jung’s colourful lipsticks Yeonji inspired by traditional Korean ceramics. In Seoul, representing Ung Svensk Form were Martha Brauer and Kyuhyung Cho. Brauer’s strange, amoebic objects explore form and tactility as a tool to strengthen communication, in this case, the meetings between children and psychologists. The work is called Mediating objects. Korean-based graphic designer Kyuhyung Cho’s Pictograph Fonts is a new system of images, representing letters. Visitors to the exhibition can write and print out a word using Cho’s new alphabet. For the design talks over the weekend Brauer and Cho were joined by Shanghai-based IKEA Designer David Wahl, architect and Ung Svensk Jury member Tor Lindstrand, local designer Joong Han Lee and Anna Blomdahl from Svensk Form. Kyuhyung Cho, educated in Stockholm but now based in Seoul is a perfect example of how the global design world is connected. How ideas and values flow across borders. And if the flood of questions from the audience after the talks is anything to go by, interest in design coming from other countries is significant. The talks explored the issues affecting young designers’ today and the similarities between the Korean and Swedish design scenes IKEA Designer Iina Vuorivirta, together with local designers Joong Han Lee and Song Bongkyu held a design talk on the second weekend of the event and to close the event, IKEA Interior Designer Maria Heggarty led visitors through the exhibition sharing her knowledge of sustainable home furnishing.

Decorative, colourful object displayed on a table in an exhibition space.
Young Korean designers Sunghee Park, Yoosun Ahn and Minjung Jung's colourful lipsticks, Yeonji, are inspired by traditional Korean ceramics
A display of various tableware in an exhibition space.
100 days of need and greed. An explorative design project by Kristina Schultz.

Ideas, objects and design discussions

At the official opening, the Korean press were addressed by IKEA Head of Design Marcus Engman. His presentation focused on what makes IKEA as a company different.

IKEA designs almost 2000 products each year, all of which are designed from scratch. Nothing at IKEA is bought off the shelf. “Every single piece of design at IKEA we are reviewing and designing from our principles of Democratic Design,” said Engman. “It’s the only way to achieve the affordable prices, with great quality,” he said.

Engman explained to the audience the five pillars of Democratic Design. “You have to have a great form, a functionality for everyday life, a quality which is long-lasting and ageing beautifully and it should be made sustainably and maybe actually nudge people into more sustainable behaviour in the future. And it should have a low-price, but having a low price as such is not as interesting. It’s actually making ideas affordable for everybody. We’re not the low-price company; we’re a great design company who wants to make great ideas affordable.”

While acknowledging that IKEA is huge and does a lot of business, Engman emphasised that how IKEA does this business is very different. “IKEA is a vision led company and the way IKEA does its business is to fulfil everybody’s everyday needs all around the world.”

Engman also talked about what is democratic about Democratic Design. “It is if you have great ideas, why don’t you share those great ideas with as many people as possible? That’s one part of democracy; we want to make things affordable.”

An audience filling a winding, low-ceilinged exhibition space.
Interest in discussing Swedish and Korean design was extensive.