Thirty Days of Making: Assembling a Chair

I’m in Day 18 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor.  (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!).

Reason for the Project:

Today I assembled a chair.  It’s not a huge project, really, and it was an IKEA chair, so it wasn’t terribly complicated.  But for me, it was an indication of  the way in which ordinary people work with the final results of designers.  Plus, my lady really needed the rest of her dining table’s chairs assembled. So I did.  I also assembled part of the dining room table, but tomorrow I’m going to have to take the thing apart, and start over to do it correctly from the beginning.

Process and Results:

I followed directions.  Not much else to this project than this.  I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more to it than this, but really, there wasn’t.  It illustrates the importance of documentation and direction-leaving for those designers who have to produce physical materials that are going to be assembled elsewhere.  And it emphasizes how important it is to leave a parts list which is accurate and correct.

But the mis-assembly of the dining table points to a different problem — how to design in such a way that there’s no ambiguity in the directions between the parts that are to be used in one place, and the parts used in another place.

Reflection on My Learning

I didn’t do very much for this project, I admit.  I was handed a box, and I opened the box and put together what was inside of it.  But I was kind of amazed at how things were arranged inside the box, and the nature of the collection of parts.  I mean, every piece in the box was painted in such a way that it was obvious how it fit together with the other pieces. There were no points of confusion about which of the fasteners went where in the chair — they could each really only go in one place.  Nothing about the design of the chair was over-engineered: it was as well-made as it could be, given the price; and given the price, it was rather well-made, although it contained nothing unnecessary.

That’s really efficient design.  And it’s to be expected of IKEA, but it’s also to be expected of designers generally — four L-shaped fasteners, four screws, six bolts, fourteen wooden pins, a pre-assembled chair back, and two pre-assembled chair sides, and two bars for the underside of the seat, to support the person’s weight.  No unnecessary bits or bobs or pieces.  One of those little hex-wrenches.

Reflection on General Learning

I don’t know who designed this chair, or how many edits it went through. But its very efficiency makes it beautiful and elegant.  I didn’t make it, though I wish I had; and it’s a reminder of how much thought can go into designing a product for common use by large numbers of people.  How many of us as designers can achieve this level of efficiency, quality, and beauty for $25.00?  I can’t. At least, not yet.


One of five stars. Nothing spectacular, nothing beautiful. But a nice reminder that good design or beautiful design doesn’t have to be complicated or ugly or weird. This was a bit of half-baked work, and I feel like it was lame.  But it was also interesting to consider this project as a Thirty Days of Making project.  I guess I’ll have to do some knitting tonight to make up for it.

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