IKEA's vast particleboard empire is built on one prime directive: affordability. Each product in their 10,000-item catalog starts with a price point and then backs into materials, colors, ergonomics, structure, and fastening systems. A key part of the cost strategy involves flat-pack, ready-to-assemble designs that are up to seven times more space-efficient to ship than conventional furniture. All of this tweaking and tinkering is done by a crew of 16 in-house designers and about 100 freelancers (a crew that is always looking for pitches!). The process is intense, taking up to five years, and involves close coordination with sawmills, manufacturers, distribution warehouses, and focus groups.
It would seem, then, that IKEA would be the authority on flat-pack design. Yet people hate putting together their furniture, generating memes in equal proportion to wobbly bookcases the world over. Frustration seems to cluster around two things: language-agnostic instructions made up of impenetrable diagrams, and fickle fasteners that never seem to equal the holes meant to accept them. That said, from an engineering view IKEA's hardware is ingenious, combining simple tools with self-registering systems that (hopefully) force pieces into alignment as they are assembled.Read More