‘Always Follow Assembly Instructions (IKEA)’


Mixed media: printed instructions & stitching on paper

h 44.5 x w 59.5 cm 2015

Framing: Floating foamcore mount in white wood box frame with TruView non-reflective glass

A sewn blue grid highlights a collection of different languages presenting a single instruction from IKEA. These aren’t the actual assembly instructions. This is an instruction beyond the assembly instructions for when you’ve finished with the product. What to do with your IKEA item when you no longer need it or want it. So a sort of unassembly instruction.

Simply and beautifully crazy and sensible at the same time.

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Instructions for Life

Most of us have used IKEA products. Many of us have even built some. There are many ways to do this and most provide comedians with ample material for their jokes. Couples arguing over the uniquely-styled ‘easy to follow’ IKEA instructions, people not being able to find the one vital component that holds the whole product together – flat-pack comedy.

Begin with the End in Mind

IKEA are one of the biggest furniture suppliers in the world with millions of customers.

Here, they’ve followed one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits – ‘Begin with the end in mind’. They’ve designed and included a whole separate leaflet to let us know how to dispose of our IKEA item after we’ve finished with it. More well-intentioned IKEA instructions to read.

Nestled in, folded up, and certainly not the main product assembly instructions, this separate leaflet reads:

The crossed out wheeled bin symbol indicates that the item should be disposed of separately from household waste. The item should be handed in for recycling in accordance with local environmental regulations for waste disposal. By separating a made item from household waste you will help reduce the volume of waste sent to incinerators or land-fill and minimize any potential impact on human health and the environment. For more information, please contact your local IKEA store.

Tower of Babel

This is repeated on this single leaflet in over 30 languages. A lot of energy, time and creativity has been invested into this simple and somewhat contemporary message. It’s quite a humbling and beautiful thing in one way – all those languages, all of us connected somehow, neatly presented in rows, all as equals. The similarities and differences in these few short example sentences of the IKEA instructions is rich, fascinating and somehow uniquely expressive.

Consciously Sustainable

It’s also hugely concerning though, with drastic implications – all those people, all that furniture, all those local IKEA stores, all those landfills, on and on. Is this really sustainable? This isn’t a criticism – this is a question for all of us – we are consumers, and we are creating this too.

As for the leaflet itself, I wonder how many of these leaflets have been folded neatly alongside the Assembly Instructions and have been discarded unread, intentionally or otherwise, straight into the bin? Hopefully at least some of them made it into the paper recycling. This one made it onto the wall.

IKEA Useful Stats (2015)

from IKEA’s website;

  • IKEA began in Sweden in 1943
  • There are 363 IKEA Group stores in 28 countries
  • IKEA operates in 43 countries
  • There are 155,000 co-workers
  • There were 771 million visits to IKEA stores in 2015
  • There were 1.9 billion visits to IKEA’s website in 2015
  • IKEA is part of the Circular Economy 100 (CE100), a global platform established by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to encourage companies to move towards a circular economy, where waste is eradicated in a cycle of repair, reuse, refurbishment and recycling
  • There are currently 9,500 products (each with packaging, IKEA assembly instructions, and I assume, many with these recycling leaflets inside.)
  • Each IKEA product is assessed internally on a Product Sustainability Scorecard against 11 criteria “making more from less”
  • IKEA have invested 1.5 billion euros since 2009 towards climate action

You can read IKEA’s Sustainability report (94 pages), and the latest yearly summary here:


More economical frames are available (of your choice & from IKEA!) the price is £75 unframed


‘Always Follow Assembly Instructions (IKEA)’ was last modified: December 6th, 2018 by Michelle Rumney


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