Here's why Ikea's great innovation was foisting furniture assembly onto its customers

Originally published at: Here's why Ikea's great innovation was foisting furniture assembly onto its customers | Boing Boing


Didn’t watch the video yet, but the reason is obvious: logistics. They can fit six flat bookshelves in the space of one assembled bookshelf. That drops shipping, trucking, and warehouse costs by 80+%.

Other benefits followed: ease of customer pickup, transport, and carrying into their houses.


The satisfaction of putting together flat pack furniture?
I’ve never, ever, heard it discussed in that way.


A pleasant video, seems like this person’s other offerings might be entertaining, thanks for the posting. This of course was ground already well trodden by Sears and Heathkit and others, seems the real story is the cartelish behaviour by other retailers and the government. Interesting notion about the value people place on self assembled objects…I have built Heathkits and I valued them for the cost savings over comparable fully assembled equipment, and for the enjoyment I had putting them together, but I don’t think I ever had any illusions about the relative worth of these objects. I also spent many happy hours crawling around IKEA stores but have never had any illusions that it was good furniture; gets the job done, mostly


“even constructing a standardized bureau, an arduous, solitary task”

I feel the need to visit the definition of arduous, or revisit my opinion of the average human’s abilities.


Man, that is the exact opposite reaction I have because I have first-hand knowledge of just how shitty it actually is.


If you start with engineering or construction skills, yes, you know exactly this. Ikea will not impress you (unless you’re impressed by the amount of effort they put into creating wordless assembly instructions, which you have to admit is quite a feat.)

But if you start with absolutely no skills, are afraid of tackling a task you’ve never tried before, and still end up with a functional bookshelf, you’re mighty proud of yourself when it’s done.


Here’s why Ikea’s crappola will never set foot in my house again, it is unmitigated shit unworthy of the slightest consideration. TRUTH!


I love instruction manuals and I’m charmed every time I put an Ikea to the test.


I enjoy buying furniture that I can pick up with my own vehicle or without borrowing a freinds pick up truck.

We had a fun time putting together a very nice sofa a few years ago that’s very comfortable and sturdy.

Also, funny this should come up, as I was typing the two sideboards that we ordered a couple weeks ago showed up. My wife asked if I could build her a long sideboard for the dining room. I have the skills and the tools and the heated garage but lumber prices would have put the cost 3 times what the flat packed cost.

One minor addition of a glass top to join two smaller pieces together and I’m done.

I suspect Ikea figured that out a long time ago, that a lot of us like to buy and bring home our own furniture without delivery trucks.


Is it your dislike of flat pack furniture?
I think Ikea actually does a good job… for what it is. I have small nightstand that is going to hold together, the design doesn’t scream “that’s an Ikea”, and it was a great price.

I also buy their smart bulbs and the solid wood countertops when they used to have them.


First, I get the sentiment, but it isn’t my experience. My oldest bookshelf is >25 years old, my newest 10. All have held heavy reference books and textbooks (all of them just passed on the Planned Parenthood for their book sale), and they have done well. I have some from a recording studio where they were abused. My newest bit of Ikea is a desk, well really a folding dining table with drawers. They have held up for me for multiple moves. The key reason I have them is they work well for the price. I did have an neat looking Ikea bed/couch that was terrible, but that mattress was never going to hold up. It did better with a proper fabric futon mattress.

Second- what was and is the alternative for durable flat-packed furniture? On the ides and the end of the month in my neighborhood the furniture made of fiberboard and cardboard are set out to be taken or the trash. The ends chipped, the structure broken apart from the hardware being stressed and breaking it, they are a testament to terrible design and manufacture. Sears, Biglots, K-Mart, what ever the chain, they sold or continue to sell these terrible examples of mass produced furniture.

My love and I add bits of better made older furniture when we can, and our Ikea has stayed with us because it still works, and I wont defend the idea that people need new furniture because the old is no longer stylish, but my worst experiences were with that fiberboard furniture that seems both ubiquitous and unavoidable when one is skint.

Lastly, Ikea definitely also makes some items with less than stellar build quality.


Call me crazy, but I enjoy putting together these things


Oh, and our cat also enjoys flat pack IKEA furniture(he even helped put it together). They could probablly sell more plant stands if they labeled them as cat beds.


i do, too. i’ve never understood the amount of hate IKEA gets. i mean, i get it, they aren’t like a hand-crafted piece of furniture, but they also never claim they are. i’ve always thought the flat pack system was a smart way to cut the cost, and the way they engineer pieces to go together is quite clever. oh, and the manuals are simultaneously simple enough for the average person to follow AND incredibly detailed. i find that quite an achievement, too.


Absolutely. If you steer clear from the absolute cheapest options, Ikea furniture is generally entirely fine, and tends to have an excellent price-quality ratio. (One of the genuine flaws with most Ikea stuff is that they don’t take well to being taken apart and then put back together.)

Also - building Ikea furniture is easy enough, if and only if you follow the instructions. Follow them. Do not try to improvise, or skip ahead to “save time”, or think you know better. If you follow the instructions, it’s going to be easy. If you don’t, at best you end up spending more time and effort than you had if you’d actually followed the instructions; at worst, you’ll end up breaking something.


Personally, the small stuff I prefer to do myself, but for larger pieces some Ikea articles are not at all bad.

My father left me a large, expandable pine table which is quite sturdily made and can be disassembled and reassembled at will, not so common for this kind of flatware.
On the other hand, I had to assist my brother with a bagful of additional screws for a dresser which was quite terrible, and I remember a cabinet which was a real deathtrap, due to the heavy glass doors coming loose and trying to guillotine you all the time.
I’d say that it’s generally prudent to check the piece beforehand in the showroom: that will show you its quality. If you find that it’s reasonably sturdy and well designed, worries may be put aside.


I’ve found that for furniture, you get what you pay for at Ikea. Their higher end furniture can actually be quite good.

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I think there’s a combination of factors here. One is classism - Ikea offered a diversity of furniture that really wasn’t affordable to a wider audience, and that really irked the non-flat-pack furniture manufacturers (and especially stores!) in a way that caused them to have little choice but to try and declare their products as upmarket while simultaneously denigrating what Ikea was putting out.

The other truth, however, is that there is a very massive and significant pile of shit that is “Ikea-like” furniture - shoddily constructed flat-pack furniture that barely fits together with inscrutable instructions, terrible fit-and-finish and cheap materials. They are everywhere and I would argue they are now more prevalent than the Ikea / crate-n-barrels of the world that actually try to make quality furniture this way.

I just moved into a house, which necessitated furniture, and I took a long, hard look at the reviews for anything I purchased flat-pack to make sure the things were actually assemble-able and sound before purchasing. Then, just this weekend I ordered an item from Ikea, and immediately realized that, as you stated, they not only solved most every issue with how you package and assemble flat-pack furniture (I mean of course they have, they’ve had 69 years to get it right!) but they also have the simplest, clearest directions, by far, of anyone else I’ve purchased from.

All that being said, I totally get how “flat pack furniture” is looked at as shit, given how much of it from other vendors really is that bad.


Another thing they do not so well (yes, I know I defended them above) is that their cabinetry is generally pretty bad. I work as a property appraiser, in my experience an Ikea kitchen is NOT the way to go.