Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ikea's use of computer-generated catalog images is worrisome.

According to a recent WSJ story, that couch catching your eye in the 2013 edition of IKEA's new catalog may not be a couch at all.
It is likely the entire living room was created by a graphic artist. In fact, much of the furniture and settings in the 324-page catalog are simply a collection of pixels and polygons arranged on a computer.
Privately held Ikea is swiftly moving toward replacing real-world production in its catalogs with 3-D computer-generated graphics to fill the pages of its catalogs, brochures and web site.
This year, 12% of IKEA's content will be “virtual.” Next year, they say that number will more than double.
The head of photography at Ikea says - "It's a clever way to save money.” Sure, but how will he feel when his job is eliminated because there is no photography?
What worries me is actually several aspects of what I hope is not too much of a trend. First, as a consumer, I’d like to know that I’m looking at a photograph of the product I’m considering purchasing. Using pixels, I would think marketers would be tempted to create images that put forth a false representation of the fit, finish, look and feel of their products. Photo-realism is something that certainly can be manipulated, but at least it starts with a photo of the real product!
Next is the economic impact. We all know that photographers like to get paid for their work. Most don't work cheap, but we also know there are a lot of photographers out there. To save money, Ikea could just modify their photography purchasing procedures. But under this plan, this whole category of work could be offshored to India or who knows where, again allowing Ikea to increase profits at the expense of how many domestic jobs.
The WSJ story states, “The company cut prices an average of 2% to 3% every year during the last decade while expanding aggressively, and still manages to squeeze more profits from the operation on a yearly basis.” Sound familiar? Sorry, Ikea. I don’t think I’ll be shopping for a flat-pack RTA room setting any time soon. Instead, I'll be doing business with companies that use technology to enhance the creative process, not replace it.