The Google Plus logo

What flat pack furniture has got right

This blog was written by Ruth Rogers and first appeared on the Epic blog on 15th May 2013.

flat pack instructionsWhat does the picture on the left tell you?

Having moved into an unfurnished apartment recently and spent many an evening assembling flat pack furniture, this picture tells me three things: that I need a particular item for this stage, that there is another item in the flat pack kit that is commonly confused with the one I need and that I can make sure I have the right piece by comparing the lengths and selecting the longer one.

For me, this image is all I need to get me through this stage of construction. I’ve done quite a lot of this recently, and so it’s given me time to think about the effectiveness of flat pack instructions. Here are a few thoughts I had during assembly about what I think flat pack furniture has got right.


A photo, or outline drawing, of the finished item on the front cover of the instructions booklet gives me my objective: it tells me what the item should look like when I’ve finished. And it does this with just one picture, not a bulleted list or a tortured paraphrase of the content to be drawn out over the next few pages. I like this simplicity, and I find the image useful to refer back to during construction.


Pictures say it all… and I trust them. Although sometimes I will flick back and forward through pages to get a bit more context about whether I am screwing on the front legs or the back legs, generally I will follow the instructions as they come, knowing that they were written by someone who knows what they are doing. In the case of flat pack furniture, as in so many others, a picture really does paint a thousand words.

Getting the level right

The image at the top of this post told me three important things – enough to make sure I got the step right. What it didn’t tell me is what this item is called. I suspect it’s some kind of screw, but that’s as far as I get. It really doesn’t matter though – I don’t need to know what it is called to be able to use it effectively. The instructions are pitched at just the right level. They don’t overload me with information, and they don’t tell me anything I don’t need to know to complete my task. However much I might try to kid myself during construction, I’m not learning to be a carpenter, I’m following instructions to assemble a table. The instructions are, in that respect, a resource rather than a course, or a performance aid to use the industry lingo.

Need some help?

The instructions also contain this image:

flat pack instructions

It says, ‘if you’re puzzled by the instructions, then call us’. It’s the extra level of performance support that’s there for people who need it. I find this reassuring, but have never needed to call the number.

Getting the level right, for everyone

Discussing this round the office, not everyone seems to be happy with the two options, and want something in between pictures only, and whatever support you would receive over the phone.

So while I think flat pack has got it right, that may be because I’ve done this before and am fairly confident with the general process and techniques involved. For me, this resource is all I need; for others, these instructions aren’t enough and another level is required.

Thankfully, there is a third option for flat pack furniture – there are plenty of willing neighbors, and handymen, who can be called on. For learning, when there isn’t a handyman to call on, and we really need our ‘carpenters’ to know their trade, we need to make sure that training resources are available for all levels.


All images used with the permission of Inter IKEA Systems B.V.