Somehow I missed this one when the news broke. IKEA decided to make some changes to the iconic, omnipresent (and often immovable) Expedit line of shelving. Specifically, they narrowed the outer walls (perhaps to save wood), softened the corners a bit, and renamed the whole thing Kallax. Rabid fans the world over lost their cool as word got out that the beloved vinyl-accommodating storage range was to be “discontinued.”
Design geeks geeked out on it. Environmentalists doled out praise, after all, even a millimeter less wood over zillions of IKEA units comes to something. LP lovers finally took a chill pill when it became clear that the interior dimensions of Kallax would be identical to those of Expedit. And one reporter noted that both Expedit and Kallax sound a bit like remedies for constipation. I’m not wild about the design change, I have to say. I think you either have the outer walls the same thickness as the inner ones (as in IKEA’s equally omnipresent Billy bookcases) or you make a statement with much thicker ones. And boxiness is so much of the identity of Expedit, why would you want to round any of the corners, even a little?
But enough about design. What’s really interesting to me here is the name change. After all, if they hadn’t called it something else, nobody would have freaked out about it being discontinued. Lots of products bear the same name through generational changes much more drastic than this. Look at Apple iPods over the years, or Ford Mustangs for that matter.
Here’s what I think happened: I think somebody in marketing decided that Expedit was old and boring and that the brand needed freshening. What they missed was that “old and boring” aka “standardized and reliable” was part of the appeal, perhaps a huge part of it. At least they didn’t turn their back on the range of add-ons already perfectly sized to the cubbies by changing the interior dimension that, by the way, is also so popular with record fans.
A few years ago I wrote about the perils of changing your brand or even just your logo or web theme because you are bored with it or think it needs a change. The question to be asking is really, is the market bored with it? Can you really change it for the better and not lose something along the way? I doubt that IKEA has lost much by this, but they certainly didn’t gain, and the cost of doing the name change and dealing with the blowback wasn’t zero, either.