that we can do it in our own shop rather than spreading the crazy ideas externally.” One of the oddest things he’s ever worked on was a lamp made from the same material as egg cartons. “I thought that was very crazy,” he says, “but we proved the technique was possible.”If air is the enemy in shipping, it is the ally in design. “The more air in our products, the better,” says Engman, who started working at Ikea when he was a teenager, pushing trolleys. (His dad was an Ikea product developer and came up with the idea for the Klippan, a round, informal sofa, after seeing how his kids wore out the furniture.) In the design center, Engman points out a table under development thatconsists of two trays cobbled together. Its hollow center means the use of fewer materials. Its legs even attach without screws—part of a general move at Ikea to try to simplify assembly. Fittings can constitute about a third of a product’s cost and are also a hassle for customers.Ikea’s designers look well beyond the furniture industry for expertise when it comes to trimming production costs. They’ve commissioned a shopping-cart manufacturer, for instance, to mass-produce a new table and a bucket maker to punch out a chair. As the price of wooden drums declines, Engman has considered using a drum supplier for round tables. The same goes for materials such as cork, which is in greater supply as wine bottles increasingly employ screw tops and plastic stoppers.So, too, design inspiration comes from everywhere. Engman points out a folding table that he saw in bars and restaurants throughout China. “It costs near to nothing,” he says. “It is the smartest table. It has the construction of an ironing board.” He is also excited these days about acacia wood, which Ikea sources primarily from Southeast Asia. Normally used in outdoor furniture, acacia has the properties of teak but the price of pine. Its downside is it turns as it grows and does so even more when it dries, making it hard to glue together. (That’s why particleboard became so popular in furniture; it’s also cheap, and every piece is alike.) But Engman says his team had a “breakthrough” in working with and drying the wood.
Walking through the design center is a bit like seeing into the future. Some of the designers are already working on products for 2019. There’s an electric bike on the horizon in some markets, as well as products that, Engman says, encourage social interaction and play. Socializing through devices like smartphones is eroding togetherness, he says, and that togetherness is an essential part of home life and therefore vital to Ikea.Indeed, electronic technology is one area where Engman says Ikea won’t go. “We weren’t any good there,” he says. Ikea’s long-ago venture into televisions was one of the company’s great failures. “We are world champions in making mistakes,” adds Engman. “But we’re really good at correcting them.”
The Secret of IKEA’s Success:Lean Operations, Shrewd Tax Planning and Tight ControlThe Economist, Print Edition, February 24, 2011THE paragraphs below are arranged randomly; you will have to assemble the finished article yourself.