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Sean Hobson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Experts Explain How IKEA Instruction Manuals Are Designed

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Sean Hobson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Building a piece of flat-packed furniture from IKEA can be an emotional rollercoaster. It is all worth it in the end, but the process can often seem like cruel and unusual torture by design. In a recent interview with Fast Company, IKEA's deputy packaging manager Allan Dickner admits that the instruction manuals are challenging, but, believe it or not, things could be a lot worse.

"We had one furniture piece, a type of wardrobe, which originally had over 400 fittings and screws to hold it together," Dickner told FastCo, explaining that packaging engineers are responsible for constructing early versions of the retailer's furniture before they settle on an "optimized" design. The "ready-to-assemble" model is one way that IKEA is able to offer its products at such affordable prices, but Dickner says that it's about finding a middle ground. "When it takes someone five hours to build it, you can ask yourself: have you gone too far with the flat packing? It’s always about finding a balance between ease of assembly and optimizing the packaging."

Dickner also explained that the engineers at IKEA use "proven solutions" as a starting point. The "generalized templates" are altered based on the unique specifications of the new product. They are also "algorithmically optimized," and are designed with structures like elevators and staircases in mind.

The instructions are made using various resources, including "construction drawings, digital snapshots, 3D models, and videos of test assemblies." According to Jan Fredlund, a designer who works on these manuals, the test assembly phase is key. The "communicators" who design the instructions are tasked with constructing the pieces for themselves to find points where others may be confused and make mistakes.

[h/t: FastCo]

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Courtesy Chronicle Books
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Design
Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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Courtesy Chronicle Books

Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

"This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
Courtesy Chronicle Books

There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
Courtesy Chronicle Books
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Ikea
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How IKEA Turned the Poäng Chair Into a Classic
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Ikea

IKEA's Poäng chair looks as modern today as it did when it debuted in 1976. The U-shaped lounger has clean lines and a simple structure, and often evokes comparisons to Finnish designer Aalto’s famous “armchair 406.” Its design, however, is ultimately a true fusion of East and West, according to Co.Design.

In 2016, the Poäng celebrated its 40th birthday, and IKEA USA commemorated the occasion (and the 30 million-plus Poäng chairs they’ve sold over the years) by releasing two short videos about the armchair’s history and underlying design philosophy. Together, they tell the story of a fateful collaboration between Lars Engman, a young IKEA designer, and his co-worker, Noboru Nakamura.

Nakamura had initially come to IKEA to learn more about Scandinavian furniture. But the Japanese designer ended up imbuing the Poäng—which was initially called Poem—with his own distinct philosophy. He wanted to create a chair that swung “in an elegant way, which triggered me to imagine Poäng,” Nakamura recalled in a video interview. “That’s how I came up with a rocking chair.”

“A chair shouldn’t be a tool that binds and holds the sitter,” Nakamura explained. “It should rather be a tool that provides us with an emotional richness and creates an image where we let go of stress or frustration by swinging. Such movement in itself has meaning and value.”

Save for upholstery swaps, a 1992 name change, and a new-ish all-wooden frame that's easily flat-packed, the modern-day Poäng is still essentially the same product that customers have purchased and enjoyed for decades. Devotees of the chair can hear the full story by watching IKEA’s videos below—ideally, while swinging away at their desks.

[h/t Co. Design]

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