The Ikea Epiphany

May 8, 2012 at 4:05 am 1 comment

The day we brought Billy home was a deeply spiritual experience.

For the uninitiated, Billy is a bookcase.

We tenderly unboxed the pile of planks, and a leaflet fluttered out. There was not a single word in the book, yet I was able to read it fluently and derive great education and entertainment from it.

Don’t be sad. Get a happy friend with a pencil.


Small person, don’t climb Billy!

I had to exercise a few good comprehension skills, such as paying attention to items in sequence, but I didn’t have to go through any torturous processes of rereading, dictionary consulting, and re-rereading with alternative meanings. Never did I lose track of the point by the time I reached the end of a convoluted sentence. Wait, that’s because there were no sentences. Either way, it certainly exercised a different part of the brain than we’re used to.

If I was ever unsure or even mistaken in my understanding of the diagrams, nothing was lost. In case I missed the part where it said 

I was still covered because the square peg wouldn’t fit into the round hole even if  I did try it. You could force it with a power drill or something, but if you knew that everything was meant to work out then you just re-read, looked over your pieces, and tried again.

By the time Billy looked like the picture at the top of the post (I didn’t time it. Must have been under an hour, I think) I was only slightly sweaty but felt like this:

We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely ...

While I stood around admiring Billy and feeling accomplished, I thought, I wish my students could build all their own classroom furniture out of IKEA. Imagine the empowerment and ownership they would feel! And school furniture is bleeping expensive; what you lose in durability in some IKEA items you could probably make up for easily enough with the price difference, especially when you factor in that you’ve also gotten a neat extracurricular activity – not exactly wood shop, but certainly, say, life skills? Team building?

Having realized that my school is already furnished (though I still ponder pitching IKEA assembly as an extracurricular activity option when opportunities do arise for furniture replacement), my next thought was Can we get the IKEA people to write create instructions for tests and learning activities? I know it’s not for everyone; I’ve heard many people rant in frustration after meeting their Billies or Ørkdrüngs or whatever, but maybe those left-brainers could use the exercise anyway. My non-readers, poor readers, and interesting thinkers could certainly use the break. My understanding is that IKEA made a conscious decision to invest heaps of  energy into designing components that fit together and instructions that could be understood by anyone so they would be spared construction costs and customer service hassles in the long run. Assuming that they’re not looking to change careers anytime soon, it’s left to me – us – to apply these principles to our instructional design.

I can see this concept going great places. For starters, note that everything in the manuals is very simplified, language is kept to a minimum, and perhaps most importantly, each step shows what NOT to do in addition to the desired action. (disclaimer: Of course students should do plenty of reading and learn to follow written directions. However: 1. Not all students are capable of doing so – e.g. the young and/or the language/reading impaired, this post is dedicated in large part to them; 2. Sometimes getting clear, foolproof directions across is a greater priority than having a linguistically rich experience)

I wonder if I can market this to the formal test makers; we spent ages just reading directions the other week. Or, even better, the people who package science experiment kits. Me and that cute little Swedish guy with the pencil behind his ear, we’re going places!


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Proud Mommy  |  May 8, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I like how you tied in the Ikea instructions with teaching. Great idea! I think it’s a fun and practical way to learn, and children/students would love it.


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