In the mid-1950s, Gillis Lundgren (1929–2016) was a draftsman living in a remote Swedish village of Älmhult. He was the fourth employee of a fledging entrepreneur named Ingvar Kamprad.
Kamprad’s business was called IKEA, an acronym combining his initials and those of his family’s farm and a nearby village. He had founded IKEA in 1943 and got his start selling stationery and stockings at age 17. In the 1950s, Kamprad had launched a low-cost mail-order furniture retailer to cater to farmers.
Constraints have played a role in many of the most revolutionary products
In 1956, Lundgren designed a veneered, low coffee table. He built the table at home but realized that the table was too big to fit into the back of his Volvo 445 Duett station wagon. Lundgren cut off the legs, packed them in a flat box with the tabletop, and rushed to a photoshoot for the IKEA furniture catalog.
And in so doing, Lundgren unintentionally birthed the flatpack furniture industry. He modified his simple design and drew up plans for a disassembled version of the table. Lundgren’s Lövet table (now called Lövbacken) became IKEA’s first successful mass-produced product.
IKEA and Its Flatpacking Took Over the World
IKEA’s trademark, easy-to-follow assembly instructions are a central ingredient to the company’s success. Manufacturing and distributing prefabricated furniture via flatpacking has proved enormously successful. It has dramatically facilitated the shipment and storage of pieces that otherwise took up much more space.
According to Bertil Torekull’s Leading by Design—The IKEA Story (1998,) the concept of ready-to-assemble furniture is much earlier than that. But IKEA was the first to systematically develop and sell the idea commercially.
Flatpacking contributed to many of IKEA’s products’ enduring popularity—they’re affordable, sleek, functional, and brilliantly efficient. In 1978, Lundgren designed the iconic Billy bookcase, the archetypical IKEA product that currently sells one in three seconds.
IKEA’s aesthetic of simplicity and efficiency reflects in its exclusive design and marketing approach. IKEA constantly questions its design, manufacturing, and distribution to create low-cost and acceptably good products.
The method has been adopted by numerous other business enterprises, transforming how products are made and sold globally.
Out of Limitations Comes Creativity
One problem with creativity is that sometimes people face an open field of creative possibilities and become paralyzed. Constraints can be the anchors of creativity [see more examples here, here, and here.]
Constraints fuel rather than limit creativity. Use constraints to break through habitual thinking and promote spontaneity. The mere experience of playing around with different constraints can stretch your imagination and open your mind’s eye for ingenuity.
Idea for Impact: Use constraints to help stimulate creativity. As the British writer and art critic G. K. Chesterton once declared, “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”
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