This article in San Francisco Chronicle and another one in CS Monitor (also posted on Arzan’s blog) points us to the rampant use of Ikea catalogs for designing home furniture for India’s blossoming middle-class. These catalogs are sold at the traffic lights in the suburbs along with issues of Vogue and other upscale magazine, attracting the eye of interior designers and those adventurous self-appointed designers.
As the article mentions, even Arundhati Roy doesn’t think twice about doing what would be otherwise termed as design theft. I am not sure if I can condone blatantly borrowing Ikea designs and handing them to the local carpenter for making your furniture. But then again, there is no such thing as original design and it is always an iterative process i.e. building on the work of others much like ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ adage. Ikea, as we know is one of the premier and convenience furniture stores all around the world, known primarily for their functional and simplistic design. Personally, I love the store and especially walking through their model kitchen, bedrooms, and even complete setups of tiny apartments. However, I see that not all people are fond of Ikea and I can’t really counter that since I haven’t bought much of their big furniture yet. With my limited pecuniary ability, I have satisfied my Ikea cravings with their little utility items.
Getting back to “stealing” designs from catalogs, this phenomenon is not entirely new. Speaking from the field, I have seen plenty of my colleagues indulge in so-called design theft. For the average middle-class, the Pidilite (of Fevicol fame) catalogs used to suffice. With the economy booming and changing tastes for more international design, the focus has shifted to the Ikea catalog instead. Borrowing from interior magazines like Inside Outside is very common and is often the primary reason for subscribing to them. Clients are happy that they can see the outcome before it is built and designers are happy because it saves them effort and time. They simply hand over the design to the carpenters and get the furniture made. It is a sorta win-win situation. Ikea or other design companies care less about such blatant borrowing simply because first, it is impossible to attribute theft of intellectual property because their designs may in fact be borrowed from other sources and second, it might be hell trying to implement a monitoring strategy. You cannot barge into people’s home to see if they have stolen your design. Usually peer-review is the best deterrent but it hardly works when everyone indulges in the activity.
However, I will also not agree that it may be a bad thing too. After all, it is the age of remixes and creative commons. The concept of originality has changed and free flow of ideas has found popular appeal. After all, Ikea gets promoted in a major way and when they eventually enter the Indian market (I see little incentive for them to do so though even if the licensing laws lighten up), they can project themselves as the “originals” and create a brand image among those who choose their furnishing simply to boast to their friends. There are a lot of those kinds in India (or anywhere in the world, for that matter).